It's the ninth year of the Dubai International Film Festival -- and Abdulhamid Juma takes that as a mandate to consider the decade ahead.
"We're going into our 10th year, which is a short time in the festival world," says Juma, DIFF chairman since its beginning. "So it's a good time to stop and ask ourselves what we're going to do for the next 10 years."
The idea of a film festival in Dubai had been discussed since the 1990s, says Juma, who was CEO of Dubai Media City when it opened in 2001. But the true impetus came after the terrorist attacks in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
"The eyes of the world were looking at the Arab world," Juma says. "The idea of the film festival was to help bridge the cultures between East and West. We wanted to give Arab filmmakers a chance to tell their stories for themselves."
So the festival has created its own niche: as a platform for Arab film and to encourage and promote Arab filmmakers. Meanwhile, the festival has also become a cultural institution taken increasingly seriously by both the residents of Dubai and the film industries around the world, from Hollywood to Europe to Asia. The numbers Juma offers speak to its growth.
"In 2004, our first year, we had one world premiere -- and this year we have 50," he says. "The first year, we had one international premiere; this year there are 16. The first year, 13,000 Dubai residents attended the festival; this year we expect 50,000. And this year we have 75 Arab films."
Even more revealing, though DIFF comes at the end of the festival year, it has developed a track record for sending films to other festivals after their Dubai debut: "There is something happening -- I believe we haven't scratched the surface yet," Juma says.
He points to a partnership with Film Society of Lincoln Center, which showcased 19 DIFF films this past August. That program gave him a new understanding of the potential audience for Arab film.
"My thinking was that these films would attract 90 percent of the Arabs in New York," Juma says. "But it was the other way around. At Lincoln Center, the audience was 90 percent Americans who were seeing an Arab film for the first time."
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