Gulf Film Festval (April 10th to 16th) Part I

Monday

I rise early – need to burn a few Press Pack DVDs, get a hair cut, empty my fridge, sort out a data roaming bundle for my phone, and pack for the seven-day trip.
My computer is unusually cantankerous today; it keeps stopping half-way through the burn process before crashing.
I leave it with a new DVD and head to the hairdresser.

“How would you like your hair?,” the stylist asks in what I took to be an East European accent.
“I would like it  a bit less scruffy, please.”
Back at home, I find the computer has used my absence productively.  I start inserting one DVD after another while I empty the fridge and start packing.
It is only two hours before the flight that I finally get to leave my place.
At Heathrow, the two friendly young women at the Emirates  check-in desk chat with me as they tag my worn-out suitcase.
“Are you going to Dubai for business or a holiday?”
” We have a film screening at the Gulf Film Festival.”
“Oh, wow; what’s your film about?’
“I suppose the best way to describe it is a love story..”
A collective “Aah” from the ladies in uniform.
I find my seat by the window on the gentle giant that is the A380.
The passenger next to me appears all too familiar with the gadgets on display in the flight entertainment console.
“You seem like a seasoned traveller!”, I said, smiling.
“I’ve flown to Dubai 24 times.”
“What do you think of it?”
“I hate it!”
Lost for a response to this conversation killer, I busy myself looking through the window.
“Dubai just doesn’t make sense; that’s all!”
He then shuts his eyes and pushes his seat back.
Rather than go to sleep, I spend the flight watching Egyptian movies. Several times I burst out laughing at the well-executed comedy.
On the flight route monitor the flight path of the plane is related with great 3D graphics. We fly over German cities followed by Eastern European territories.
I go back to my Egyptian film as the flying fish carries us through the change in climate from the cold north to the heat of the south.
It is a particularly amusing incident in the Egyptian film that causes me to glance away from the small screen before me to look at the flight route monitor on the big screen.
It shows the plane gently floating over Baghdad.
I press pause on the Egyptian comedy. I follow intently as the graphics reveal the blue of the great Tigris river weaving its ancient route through the green of Mesopotamia.
It strikes me that since my first experience of setting foot aboard an airplane as a child when my family left Iraq this is the first time I have “returned” to the birthplace of my mother and my father.
Basra comes onto view on the graphic, then slowly stepping back before the greenish blue of the Gulf.
I somehow can’t go back to the Egyptian movie.
As we land at Dubai International I see yet another example of the knowledge of the experienced traveller next to me of the rituals of air travel. He manages to leave his seat, get his hand luggage from the overhead compartment and be one of the first to get off the plane.
I savour the experience and watch everyone in my section of the aircraft disembark before I make my way towards the door.
Within a short walk from the plane, I see my  name on a signboard held aloft by a young woman.
I introduce myself.
“Mr ‘Abd al-Hamid, we are waiting for one more passenger.”
The passenger turns out to be a journalist who’d interviewed me at the Raindance Film Festival.
We are taken through to luggage collection before having our passports stamped at a special
VIP immigration desk.

While the passports are stamped, the journalist makes a prediction about our film. I am not as confident as he genuinely appears to be.

I am deposited in the back of an executive chauffeur-driven car. The driver is from Pakistan. My attempt at making conversation falls flat. I don’t speak his language, and his English consists of little more than  ”yes” and “thank you”.
At the five-star hotel,  the check in is smooth and ever so quick.
Within minutes of getting to my room on the 18th floor, I get a call from a festival organiser.
“Your badge and itinerary are ready for collection.”
I meet Nada and Hussayn in the hotel lobby. I head with them to the Festival office. I say hello to Delphine, the senior festival organiser.
At the welcome lunch, I meet the artistic director of the festival, Masoud Amrallah Al Ali. We hug; it’s been many years since we last met.
For lunch, I am seated next to an Emirati and an Iraqi filmmaker. The former is still at high school.
“I wish if I’d gotten into filmmaking when I was as young as you”, I confess to him.

The opening ceremony is simple and the more sweet for it.

At the after party, I find myself chatting with fellow feature film competition participants Katy Chang and J.R. Osborn (Glitter Dust, UAE, 2012, 60 minutes, documentary).

We exchange stories about last-minute post-production issues and we try to calm each others’ nerves about our screenings.

Day Two:
I am expected in the filmmakers lounge at 10:30 in the morning.

As soon as I arrive, Mjd (pronounced Majd), a young lady from the festival team, walks me to my seat on a white cloth-covered round table.

A minute later Sheila from the press office comes over and greets me before introducing a TV crew to the filmmaker seated to my left.

Watching members of the press thread their way around the tables, I begin to worry, “what if I end up being like the boy who is left unpicked while everyone else plays football!”

The thought quickly vanishes the moment Sheila brings over the first TV crew.

After I answer her general questions about the story, funding and casting, the Lebanese reporter wonders: “at 104 minutes, isn’t your film a bit on the long side?”

I explain my view that the duration of a movie has very little bearing on how good or bad the story, direction, or performance in the film is. One can be close to reaching for a revolver to shoot himself after ridding the world of the director on films that barely make the feature film duration criteria of 60/70 minutes, so unintentionally slow and alienating is the piece. At the same time, a well-made two-hour movie would fly by in a blink. The litmus test, for me, is how involved and immersed the audience is in the world created by the director on the big screen.”

She seems to like my logic.

Two interviews later, I spend half an hour chatting with undergraduate students covering the festival for their college website.

In the evening, I attend the world premiere of Glitter Dust.

Whilst waiting for the introduction of the film, I chat to a European couple next to me.
“How did you find out about this screening?”
“We saw the festival programme in Al-Khaleeh Times (a local English language daily).”

The screening goes well and the filmmakers appear prepared for a telling question as to why no Emirati artists appear in a documentary about the art scene in Dubai.

After a quick bite, I am back at the multiplex where the festival screenings are held alongside the the usual Hollywood content.

As I take my seat in the auditorium, a European young lady looks up from her copy of the festival catalogue. Noticing my badge, she asks if I work for the festival.
“No, I am attending. Why do you ask?”
“I haven’t been able to book tickets in advance; it has to be on the day.”
“Are there many films you’d like to see at the festival?”

She takes out a handwritten note. When she reads Mesocafé from her list I can’t hold back my joy in her choice of our film from the fairly big selection of works contained in the catalogue.

I hope she will be able to get a ticket for our international premiere on Friday.
To be continued.

Peace and love,
Ja’far

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V



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