Dubai festival closes with new Arab film awards

(news.yahoo.com) - In a ceremony as lavish as the Arabian Nights, Dubai wrapped up its third international film festival on Sunday night with new cash awards for Arab cinema scooped up by Algerian, Tunisian and Palestinian films.

The festival's top prize -- $50,000 for best feature film -- went to "Barakat!," an Algerian road movie about a woman's quest to find her husband after he is kidnapped by Islamic militants.

Tunisian film "VHS Kahloucha," about a decorator who dreams of being a director, won best documentary and Palestinian director Cherien Dabis won the best short film award for "Make a Wish," the story of a poor Palestinian girl's determination to buy herself a birthday cake.

The festival included films from all over the world, with actors and directors from Hollywood to Bollywood, but only Arab films were in the competition.

U.S. director Oliver Stone was honored for lifetime achievement and handed out some of the Muhr Awards, sculpted like the head of the Arabian horses they are named for.

The ceremony was an oriental extravaganza for hundreds of invited guests, with belly dancers, sword dancers and a magic carpet suspended above the stage.

But the awards were more than just a party for the Arab film-makers.

"The prize will draw attention to our film so more people will watch it and that is what we want," said Lebanese director Michel Kammoun, who won silver for his first feature "Falafel," a look at the post-civil war emptiness felt by many Lebanese.

Competition coordinator Mohammed Rouda said the awards were aimed at encouraging Arab cinema and that the juries were asked to base their choices on cinematic quality not budget or origin.

"Without a competition the festival is less exciting and since Arab cinema needs encouragement we decided to provide it with a good award to help directors keep going and make another movie," he told Reuters earlier in the week.

"Barakat!" was not the critics' favorite and several said the jury chose it to send a political message because it has a female protagonist, female director and deals with the topical issue of religious extremism.

"There were better films, 'WWW: What a Wonderful World' or 'Flowers of Forgetfulness' for instance," Nadim Jarjoura, film critic for Lebanese newspaper Assafir told Reuters. "These were cinematically better and the characters were more convincing."

Neither "Flowers of Forgetfulness," a Tunisian film about a woman who turns to drugs when her husband leaves her for a man, nor "WWW: What a Wonderful World," a Moroccan movie about a killer who falls in love with a policewoman, won prizes.

But the short film and documentary winners were popular choices.
"I really wasn't expecting it. For us it was just important to be here to show our film at this festival," said Nejib Belkadhi, director of "VHS Kahloucha."

And how will Belkadhi spend his $40,000 prize?

"To make a new film, of course!"

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