Renowned filmmakers compete in prestigious Muhr Feature Awards

November 3, 2014 12:45 pm

The region’s leading directors are once again set to pit their passion, determination and filmmaking skills against one another at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) Muhr Feature Awards. The competition this year is tougher than ever, as the entries increase in quality and cinematic finesse, and as the directors grow as industry leaders.

Established in 2006, the Muhr Awards aim to foster and reward artistic excellence from within the Arab world. DIFF Artistic Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali said: “We are proud to announce the first film selection in this year’s Muhr Feature category, many of which are supported by DIFF’s post-production support programme Enjaaz. The line-up is a diverse array of stories that will capture the imaginations of all who view the intricate plots being woven out on-screen. Storytelling is an art – and these directors have embraced this complex art with open arms.”

‘Dolphins’ is directed by Ras Al Khaimah Emirati Waleed Al Shehhi, who secured funding from DIFF’s post-production fund Enjaaz in cooperation with Watani and Filmi before going on to win the IWC Filmmaker Award during the 2013 edition of the Festival.

In its world premiere, ‘Dolphins’ follows the intricately intertwined stories of three people within a twenty-four hour period. Set in his home emirate, the film features the character Saud, an only child who struggles to come to terms with his parents’ separation. The film follows Saud, who sets off on an unusual adventure with an extraordinary outcome.

The Enjaaz-supported ‘I’m Dead’ is another world premiere and contender for the coveted Muhr award. Directed by acclaimed Algerian filmmaker Yacine Mohamed Benelhadj, ‘I’m Dead’ is a thriller featuring Omar – a car thief. After he finds a bag filled with banknotes in the back of the car he’s just stolen, he realizes that the owner is not going to let him get away with his money. Things become even more complicated when the car owner turns out to be a killer.

In its world premiere ‘I am Nujoom, Aged 10 and Divorced’ is Khadija Al-Salami’s first feature powerful portrayal of the life of a Yemeni child-bride, which was also made with the support of Enjaaz. Sold off to a man 20 years her senior, Nujoom suffers at his hand, finding herself in a living hell until she applies to the court for a divorce.

Tarik, a Moroccon entertainer or H’Dya who dresses like a woman to entertain the crowds, is the focus of Hicham Lasri’s ‘The Sea is Behind’: a dramatic story of violence, intolerance and conservatism in Arab societies. ‘The Sea is Behind’ also found the all-important funding it needed for completion via the Enjaaz post-production fund and will enjoy its world premiere to DIFF audiences.

Reine Mitri’s documentary ‘In This Land Lay Graves of Mine’ tells a compelling tale of national identity and the meaning of territory in Lebanon. Told from a first-person perspective, this cinematic work also supported by Enjaaz, focusses on a country defined by religion, whose communities are fearful of demographic repartition.

In Hisham Zaman’s ‘A Letter to the King’, the tales of five refugees are told by 83-year-old Mirza, who has bound their stories into one letter. Together the five take on a journey of discovery, across the snowy landscape to Oslo. Mirza insists on hand-delivering her letter to the King of Norway himself, to show him the happiness, humiliation, love and revenge experienced by the five. This all-encompassing film also gained initial funding from Enjaaz.

Tala Hadid’s ‘The Narrow Frame of Midnight’, follows the journey of young orphan Aicha, found alone in the central Moroccan forests. Meeting people along the way, she takes on a journey of discovery from Morocco to Istanbul, across the plains of Kurdistan and even further.

Corruption, violence and the struggle of education are the main themes of the Enjaaz supported documentary ‘The Council’ world premiere, by Yahya Alabdallah. Set in a Palestinian refugee school, 10-year-old Abed and 13-year-old Omar form a student council; make a pledge to help clean up the school and minimize violence among students through conflict resolution: the main aims of their electoral campaign. The girls start to rehearse the ‘Dabka’ to perform in front of the Minister of Education on Palestine Day; but they are faced with resistance – how will the religious teacher agree to the dance and what will the headmistress do about the situation?

The prolific Egyptian director Daoud Abdel Sayed returns to DIFF this year with his latest feature ‘Out of the Ordinary’. Last year, three films by the legendary director were chosen among DIFF’s list of the 100 Most Important Arab Films, namely; Kit Kat (1991), Land of Fear (1999), and Messages from the Sea (2010).

Written and directed by Daoud Abdel Sayed ‘Out of the Ordinary’ follows a new and untraditional story that hasn’t been introduced in Arab cinema before. When his scientific investigation of the paranormal yields naught, Yehia takes a forced vacation from his work and regular life. Wandering without aim, he settles in a seaside guest house inhabited by a clan of quirky characters. As he grows intimate with the owner and close to her charismatic young daughter, Yehia believes he’s stumbled across the magic he’d so long sought. Something out of the ordinary seems to exist within them all, and perhaps also within himself.

Antoine Khalife, Director Arab Programme said of the selection: “These great works of cinema outline the struggles faced by communities around the world and together form a fantastic Muhr Feature selection. The protagonists featured find themselves in troubled, difficult times. From social pressure and human tragedy to wrongdoing and strained relationships, they each take their own journey of discovery. We are delighted to see the progress of directors who return to DIFF after participating in previous editions who each in their own way are adding weight to the region’s budding film industry.”

The winners of this prestigious award will be announced during DIFF at an event on the 16th December, which runs from December 10th to 17th 2014.