I’ll admit that waking up each day to the sound of the ocean just outside my window does wonders for my spirit.
The Madinat Jumeirah souk and arena, as well as surrounding Jumeirah hotels where the Dubai International Film Festival takes place each year, provide the perfect location to soothe a weary visitor, and an avid film lover. So pardon me the sentimentality when I say that my experience so far has been beautiful. I’ve met the likes of Sir Patrick Stewart and talked about Shakespeare and art with the man — my two other loves outside cinema — and I’ve hung out thus far, face to face, with handsome Dane Claes Bang, whose film, Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner ‘The Square' is probably gonna get nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar this year. I’ve gotten pampered, watched a few groundbreaking films and hung out in one day with more talent and beauty than what I usually experience in a month. It really doesn’t get better than this. I mean, look at my view!
Now onto the films. Rob Reiner’s ‘Shock and Awe’ is a masterpiece. I could leave it at that because really, the film is a must-watch for all and simply perfection in my book. The story of two real life journalists whose truth didn’t fit into the American narrative of the Bush Jr. administration at the time when US officials behaved like angry dogs rearing to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein, Reiner’s film had me at “hello”. Jonathan Landay (played by Woody Harrelson) and Warren Strobel (played by Michael Marsden) maneuver their way through the perils of possessing the courage to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, at a moment in time when reality just didn’t seem as politically attractive as lies and manipulations. Reiner points the finger, unfaltering and unafraid, at politicians but also at the mainstream media and reminds us that although our current President sound like a broken record about “fake news”, his complaints are based on real facts.
Facts we perhaps would rather forget, like the idea that the NY Times and Washington Post were used, and at times still are, as weapons of propaganda. Yes ‘Shock and Awe’ is a movie, yes Reiner knows how to grip his audience and make us sentimental in just the perfect spots to make it stick, but in the end, his film cannot, should not, must not be dismissed as just a movie. Because it’s our reality and an ugly part of our American history.
Meeting both Claes Bang, and Q’orianka Kilcher who stars in ‘Hostiles’ the opening night film of DIFF17, proved one of those times when I really, really love what I do. It’s rare to sit across from anyone these days who looks deep into another person’s eyes and talks about profound matters. And to have that happen twice within a half an hour provided me proof that we can’t give up on humanity just yet. I mean, it’s just fantastic when an actress, a young, beautiful woman like Kilcher has also developed her spiritual side and is so grounded that she made me feel like she could tell when my attention drifted — thinking of the next question I should ask her.
Bang instead possesses an intensity that is almost overpowering. He’s passionate about his work and very in tune with the world around him. But he’s also a really handsome man and I’ll have to say being at DIFF, around male actors and filmmakers, has proved refreshing. Let me explain, before I get in trouble.
When the whole Hollywood sexual predator news broke back in October, I received a message from a colleague I’m connected with on Facebook. He pointed to the fact that as a woman, in light of the recent revelations, I would now find it much “impossible” to get one-on-ones with male stars and directors. The statement hit me and I felt an immediate pang of anxiety. I mean, my job as a woman, a blogger, someone who holds on to her personal opinions and is proud of going against the current if need be is already pretty difficult as it is. To add to that burden — because lets face it, even when diversity and/or equality are celebrated and demanded in the arts, it never really manages to trickle down to the media side of things — would only make my work impossible.
But DIFF has proven my colleague wrong, of course. I’ve never had more access, and more professional intimacy than what I’ve experienced here so far. I mean, the kind of face to face talks that mean so much to a writer, because in the end, you know they will help the pieces write themselves. The kind of great human connections that we all strive to create, across cultures, with different personalities and among our fellow humans.
What’s that saying DIFF? “Film Will Find You”? Yes, it always does, and helps me to discover the way back.