No two film festivals are alike -- and those of us who attend them professionally tend to judge them by different standards than the average festival-goers.
First and foremost: the films. Is the quality high? Is there a wide range of material? Do you feel like you're seeing things you might otherwise not see? Are you glad you did?
Then there's the organization itself: Is there a system in place to keep the lines moving and the movies starting on time? Do the volunteers seem to know what they're doing?
And finally, the venues: Are they up to the technological demands? Are they comfortable? Are they accessible?
(This is the one where, for example, Sundance still has problems, with public screenings held in a huge high school auditorium and the converted interior of a racquet club, among other places. Plus the venues are scattered all over a mountain town, far enough apart to prohibit walking and require mass transportation, without actually having it -- though Sundance's shuttle-bus system works well.)
(I remember that, in one of my first years going to Park City, the venue for press screenings was called The Garage. And it was exactly that: a maintenance garage into which folding chairs had been placed, a sheet hung as a screen and a makeshift projection booth built to mask the sound of the projector. It was frequently as cold inside as it was outdoors in the Park City winter. I often wondered whether the filmmakers were aware that critics were getting their first look at films these directors had spent years making while sitting on a folding chair in a room where you could almost see your breath.)
But so far, the 9th Dubai International Film Festival is getting my vote of approval as a filmgoer-friendly event. The organization seems well-thought-out, the venues (a multiplex at the luxe Mall of the Emirates and two well-appointed theaters in the Souk Madinat) are comfortable and the volunteers are friendly and knowledgeable.
And the films? I saw four on Monday, two of which I'd rate as among the strongest I've seen this year.
The first was Kill Me, a German film by director Emily Atef. The film stars Maria Dragus (who was in Michael Haneke's criminally overrated The White Ribbon) as Adele, a teen so depressed at her life working with her dull parents on their dairy farm that she wants to commit suicide -- but lacks the nerve. One day, she comes home to find the police talking to her parents. When she goes in the house and into her own bedroom, she is grabbed by the man the police are hunting for, who is hiding there.
This commentary continues on my website.