ROME – “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” will launch in the Middle East on the strength of closing out the upcoming Dubai Film Festival, which will also fete the actor Samuel L. Jackson and feature the international premiere of John Madden’s political thriller “Miss Sloane” as its opener.
The Dec. 7-14 festival, the world’s top Arabic cinema showcase, has a robust Hollywood component as well this year.
“Rogue One” will be screened in Dubai one day ahead of its Dec. 15 theatrical release in the UAE, marking the hotly anticipated film’s only festival outing. The Lucasfilm/Disney juggernaut goes out in U.S. theaters on Dec. 16.
Besides Jackson, who will make the trek to receive a lifetime achievement award and hold an onstage conversation, Dubai has also recruited Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs for an “In Conversation” event. Oscar-winning British director Asif Kapadia (“Amy”) is also scheduled to give a talk, as is Irish helmer Lenny Abrahamson, who was Oscar-nominated for “Room.”
U.S. movies in the lineup include “La La Land,” “Nocturnal Animals,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and Will Smith-starrer “Collateral Beauty.”
In line with the current trend of showing high-profile TV miniseries at festivals, an episode of HBO’s “Westworld” will screen, followed by a conversation with two of the show’s stars, Jeffrey Wright and Luke Hemsworth.
Dubai’s core Arabian Nights section, featuring works by Arab and non-Arab directors that depict the Arab world, focuses on women this year, according to its programmer, Delphine Garde-Mroueh. Several of the titles portray Arab women from fresh angles, including French director Henri Barges’ dark comedy “Nuts,” about two bored upper-crust Beirut housewives who become addicted to gambling and descend into the city’s sex, drugs, and gaming underbelly. In Lebanese director Sophie Boutros’ “Solitaire,” another dark comedy, the protagonist is haunted by the memory of her brother, who was killed by a Syrian bomb in Lebanon’s civil war, just as she is being pursued by a Syrian suitor for an arranged marriage.
Islamic terrorism is present in Dutch director Mijke De Jong’s timely “Layla M,” about the radicalization of a young Muslim woman from a Moroccan family in Amsterdam who moves to Syria to fight with Isis, only to realize she has no place in a new world dominated by men. The movie received positive notices in Toronto, but it will be interesting to see how it plays with Arab audiences.
As is customary, Dubai has a significant Bollywood component, including the world premiere of Paris-set Hindi romancer “Befikre,” directed by Aditya Chopra. Production company Yash Raj Films is touting it as a “progressive” Indian take on modern love. Dubai fest Chairman Abdulhamid Juma has predicted that the racy pic will appeal not just to Dubai’s large Indian expat community “but also to Arabs who have a strong affinity for Bollywood films.”
Riding the current virtual-reality craze, Dubai is launching an entire dedicated section this year called DIFFerent Reality in a specially equipped state-of-the-art venue where 10 VR films will screen. They including the world premiere of “Lake Baikal: The Science and Spirituality of Extreme Water,” a Russian-U.S. collaboration co-directed by Georgy Molodtsov and Michael Owen.
Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux will come to the Dubai fest for the first time to present “Lumière! Inventing Cinema,” a compilation of restored movies made by cinema pioneers Auguste and Louis Lumière between 1895 and 1905. Besides running the Cannes fest, Fremaux also heads the Institut Lumière in Lyon, which is dedicated to the work of the Lumière brothers and to preserving the world’s film heritage.