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First Dubai Film Festival Ends on High Note

First Dubai Film Festival Ends on High Note, Impressing Industry Guests, Local Festival-goers, More than 18,000 screening tickets issued during six-day Festival

The first Dubai International Film Festival ended on an upbeat note yesterday, with international celebrities and industry executives complimenting DIFF organizers on a promising and successful first Festival, and Festival-goers praising the diversity of cinema brought to these shores for the first time.

More than 13,000 people from around the UAE and the world attended the Festival films during the six-day event, with ticket generation crossing the 18,000 mark on the fifth day. More than 100 celebrities from East and West attended, and more than 300 international visitors flew in to attend the Festival. The event also made headlines around the world, with more than 400 members of the global, regional and local press corps covering the Festival.

“The response to the first Dubai International Film Festival has been very positive, and what we expected and planned for in our first year,” said Abdulhamid Juma, CEO of Dubai Media City. “We have had very good feedback from around the region, from filmmakers and industry professionals who appreciate the focus on quality Arab cinema, to cinema-goers in the UAE who want the opportunity to see more quality cinema from around the world.”

Juma also expressed his thanks to all those who were integral to the building and execution of the Festival. “I would like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum for their vision and invaluable support in making this Festival a success throughout the region and the world,” he said. “I also want to thank our sponsors, the Festival management team and each and every local volunteer and participant for helping our Festival get off to a solid start.”

Neil Stephenson, Festival Director and CEO, echoed those comments. “This has been a week of drama, excitement, emotion, dialogue and most of all, it has been a week of cultural exchange and learning,” Stephenson said. “We expected to have some learning experiences in the first Festival, but overall we are very happy with what we have achieved in our first year.”

“The feedback I have received has been generally very positive,” he added, “but we welcome all criticisms also because we want to learn and improve for the next year. The Festival has enhanced Dubai’s reputation as a crossroads of world cultures and we hope it will quickly gain a reputation as the showcase of excellence for Arab cinema.”

“The overriding objectives of our Festival are big ideas, and they will take time to firmly take root and bear fruit, but judging by all the positive feedback we have received from around the world, we are confident that we have built a solid foundation upon which this Festival will grow and prosper in the years ahead,” Stephenson said.

If box office numbers are any indication, the Festival generated the interest and excitement of thousands of UAE residents and visitors. Close to 30 screenings were sold out, with substantial attendance reported on dozens of other screenings.

Judging by feedback from the viewing public of the UAE, the Festival will also alter the face of popular cinema in the country. Film distributors at the Festival reported substantial interest from the public to see more world cinema, arthouse films and specialist documentaries on a regular basis, and stated that plans are under way to make these genres of film a staple of cinema offerings in the country.

The Festival also provided residents and visitors with a unique opportunity to interact with filmmakers, and also provided a forum for industry executives and filmmakers to engage with each other. Two of the non-film highlights of the Festival included a panel discussion between leading filmmakers and students from around the UAE, and an impromptu meeting between Arab filmmakers and producers to discuss ways of future cooperation and improvements to the regional film industry.

Logistically, the Festival managed to accomplish what most start-up festivals around the world can only dream of, Festival consultants said. “The first Dubai International Film Festival has been unbelievably successful,” said Festival Logistics and Technical Operations Manager Hans Burgschmidt. “Most Festivals would take a very long time to reach this level of preparation and participation, and it is only because of the superhuman effort made by all the Festival staff in the last several months that we have been able to complete all the logistical requirements.”

After nearly two years in the making and the combined efforts of more than 400 administrators, programmers, technicians, contractors, advisers and volunteers, the six-day Festival culminated in a grand gala screening on Friday night, when South African film Red Dust was screened to an audience of more than 1,000 people, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Hollywood superstar Morgan Freeman and a bevy of Arab and South Asian celebrities. A desert dinner was also hosted last night as a mark of appreciation for all Festival visitors, delegates and staff.

The Dubai International Film Festival was held between December 6 and 11, 2004, and featured 76 films including features, retrospectives and short films. DIFF was presented by Dubai Media City and its presenting sponsors were Dubai Duty Free, Emirates, Madinat Jumeirah Arabian Resort-Dubai, and Nakheel. DIFF Gold Sponsors are DOM International, The Kanoo Group and National Bank of Dubai, and Silver Sponsors are Arabian Radio Network, Atlas Telecom, Dubai Radio Network, E-Vision and Motivate Publishing.

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