This place never ceases to surprise me. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, has stated that he wishes the Emirate to become an open air art gallery by the time it will host Expo 2020. And in fact, at every corner during my stay here for the Dubai International Film Festival, I’ve experience art, beauty and film.
I mean, where else in the world can you sit listening to Sir Patrick Stewart talk film and life, watch a cool cultural Emirati film like ‘Sharp Tools’ by Nujoom Al Ghanem and then walk over to a turtle sanctuary just behind your hotel, at Jumeirah Al Naseem all in one day? If you said Dubai, you got it.
Sir Patrick Stewart and the possibility of a Tarantino-esque Captain Picard
During his “In Conversation with” Sir Patrick Stewart wowed the audience with his charm and distinguished good looks, his cool stories and an impromptu performance of the St Crispin’s Day Speech from ‘Henry V’ prompted by a question from an audience member. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers” goes one line and out came the waterworks, my tears, partly because Sir Stewart is that good but also because Shakespeare to me is a family heirloom, ever reminding me of my beloved grandfather who translated his works into German. “My life was a little bit chaotic but the stage was the safest place I’d been,” Sir Stewart admitted, continuing, “in a play there is a beginning, a middle and an end; it is all planned out and there is no chaos.” Thus probably explaining the beauty of the performing arts in one fell swoop (which by the way, is an expression that also comes from Shakespeare’s writing).
Later in the chat, Sir Stewart was asked if he’d ever considered coming back to his Captain Picard role, which of course is how most of us have come to know and love him — if Quentin Tarantino were to direct it, as he’s been more than rumored to be in talks about with J.J. Abrams. The actor seemed quite enthusiastic about the idea and in fact, other news outlets have more than hinted at the idea of Jean-Luc Picard coming back, in a dark, R-rated twist, bloody Tarantino-style ‘Star Trek’.
‘Sharp Tools’ and the visual poetry of Hassan Sharif
Filmmaker and poetess Nujoom Al Ghanem is a foremost and truly vital voice of this Region. Her films typically explain the rhythm of the UAE, as Al Ghanem was born in Dubai, and allow a glimpse into the soul of a people who live both on the edge of the future and in the shadow of its past.
In her latest film, the documentary ‘Sharp Tools’ Al Ghanem profiles artist Hassan Sharif — another important figure in the Emirates and a good friend of the filmmaker until his passing in 2016. Getting his start in newspaper comics and having moved on to wondrous works of art, in which he used everything from cardboard to local souvenirs to create a story about past and present, Sharif becomes a nearly silent hero of the big screen in ‘Sharp Tools’ and I felt relaxed and inspired at the end of this sultry and thoughtful film. This is a must watch at this year’s DIFF, for its importance and that of Sharif’s art of course, but also for the fabulous cats featured, with the cutest tail I’ve ever seen as well as the best use of subtitles in a film since ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.
‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ at Dubai Opera
I’ll say it, once and for all. I’ve been a Harry Potter virgin all this time! There, now that I got that out of the way, I can also admit that watching my very first film of the series, which also happened to be where it all began, at the Dubai Opera, accompanied by a full symphony orchestra which provided the soundtrack, turned out to be one of the most magical evenings I’ve ever experienced in a theater. Ever.
From the moment we walked in and had our picture taken, to our seats in a VIP area of the Opera house, I felt the wonder that most kids and adult children of all ages have felt with the ‘Harry Potter’ series. Women dressed in capes, striped scarves almost everywhere, once the conductor came on stage, it was pandemonium! I mean, a collective cheer went up so loud it felt more like I was being privy to a spiritual experience than a night at the theater.
Will I be back for more? You bet. And thanks to the wonder of Dubai Opera, I may try them all, these ‘Harry Potter’ films, but only here, in Dubai, with a full orchestra and the vibes of humanity coming together as one.