Life of Pi to open Dubai International Film Festival

One of the year's most anticipated films, Life of Pi, will open the ninth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), organisers announced on Monday.

Ang Lee’s 3D extravaganza, based on the highly acclaimed 2001 book by Yann Martel, has won rave reviews across the international film circuit.

The film follows the story of a young man who survives a disaster at sea. While cast away on board a lifeboat, he forms an unexpected connection with another survivor - a fearsome Bengal tiger.

"A lot of people, directors thought this book couldn't be turned into a film, that this would not be possible." Abdulhamid Juma, the chairman of DIFF, told a press conference at Mina' Salam in Dubai.

The film’s young star Suraj Sharma, will also attend, who organisers say might just be the next ‘superstar’. 

Other films screening at this year's festival include the biopic Hitchcock, starring Anthony Hopkins, Kurdish film Bekas and James Cameron's fantasy showcase Cirque Du Soleil: Worlds Away 3D.

Musical comedy The Sapphires, based on a true story about four young, talented Australian Aboriginal girls whose all-girl group goes to entertain the US troops in Vietnam, will close the festival on December 16.

Spectacular showcase

This year's festival features 161 films from 61 countries with 43 languages. A staggering 52 world premieres will take place at the fest, up from 47 last year and just one from the festival’s debut in 2004.

The films were carefully chosen from the 2100 submissions received from all across the globe.

True to their agenda of promoting and cultivating Arab cinema, 60 of the films to be screened will be from the region.

“This is what we are really proud of. They ask ‘What is the point of film festivals? Why do we need film festivals?’ This is the result,” Juma said.

‘Every year we are growing exponentially - we’ve got so many different elements happening. The showcase is absolutely spectacular. We’ve got lots of different films that are gaining momentum in terms of Oscar buzz and there is a real repertoire in terms of languages. All in all, the showcase of films is quite spectacular and this year we’ve upped it a notch,” Shivani Pandya, the managing director of DIFF told Yahoo! Maktoob.

One of the two Arab gala screenings, Wadjda, is a film the organisers are really excited about.

Directed by the first female Saudi director, Haiffa Al Mansour, and boasting an all-Saudi cast, the film is expected to bring the kingdom’s filmmakers to the forefront.

“We’re really excited about a first-time Saudi Arabian woman director, who we’ve supported from the beginning. She was once part of the Gulf Film Festival who then went on to get Enjaaz funding from us and now she is one of the galas this year. She’s a success story,” Pandya said.

Noticeably absent from the lineup are the Bollywood names.

“Bollywood is something that a lot of people come to Dubai for, whether the festival is there or not,” Pandya said.

“They are very much available and accessible to the public; for us, it’s really bringing out what’s not accessible, but we still have two weeks left so we may surprise you,” she assured.

Celebrities

In the past, DIFF has been a hotspot for some of the biggest international stars from Tom Cruise to Shahrukh Khan, but this year, organisers want the films to shine.

‘The film is the star,’ Juma said, adding that DIFF wants to move away from stars just walking on the red carpet.

That said, DIFF will still welcome a host of regional and international celebrities, including award-winning actors Cate Blanchett and Colin Firth.

Other celebrities confirmed to attend are Kevin Spacey, Rooney Mara, Kristin Davis and Cuba Gooding Jr. as well as one of India's finest exports, Freida Pinto, who will sit alongside Mark Adams and Nayla Al Khaja on the Arab, Asia Africa and Muhr Awards Jury.

A number of A-list Arab celebrities will also hit the red-carpet, including Laila Eloui, Khaled El Nabawy, Ghada Adel, Salah El Sadany, Hassan Hosny, Mohamed Saad and Hany Ramzy.

GCC stars such as Haya Abdulsalam, Jushoon, Zahra Arafat, Abdul Aziz Jassim and many more will be in attendance.

DIFF will also present its Lifetime Achievement Awards to veteran Egyptian actor Mahmoud Abdul Aziz and British director Michael Apted, for their contributions to the world of cinema and their inspiring bodies of work.

Highlights

Apart from the film and gala screenings, one of the highlights of the festival is the IWC Schauffhausen Awards on Dec 10, headed by Cate Blanchett.

The awards aim to support emerging filmmakers in the region, awarding one lucky filmmaker with $100,000 to fund their film script.

On Dec 14, Colin Firth and his fashion entrepreneur wife, Livia, will support the annual ‘One Night to Change Lives’ charity in support of Oxfam and Dubai Cares.

Last year’s event raised over a $1 million for schools in Pakistan and this year promises to do the same.

On the sidelines of DIFF, away from the glitz and glamour of the red carpet, is the Dubai Film Market, which is aimed at encouraging and cultivating Arab cinema.

Dubai Film Market supports films straight from script to screen and offers networking opportunities for budding filmmakers to find funding for their projects.

“We’ve seen a lot of Arab filmmakers graduate from their first short film on to their second or third feature film and we’ve seen this in front of our eyes,” Pandya said.

How to attend

This year’s festival runs from Dec 9 – 16 and tickets will be available online starting Tuesday, Nov 27 online at www.dubaifilmfest.com.

Additional information is also available through DIFF's dedicated customer care number, 04 363 FILM (3456).