12/09/2012 11:08 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2013

Live From the Dubai International Film Festival: Day 1

Whenever I mention to a friend that I'm heading off to a film festival -- which usually refers to Sundance or Toronto, the two I travel to each year -- the usual response is, "That sounds like fun."

As though I were going on vacation.

Certainly there are vacation-like aspects to these trips: travel, a hotel stay, escaping from your daily routine into a new environment.

On the other hand, when I go to a film festival, I'm usually devoting my time to seeing movies, often four or five a day. And once I'm finished going to movies, I have to spend a couple of hours thinking and writing about what I've just seen.

Still, I admit that, when I was invited to the 9th Dubai International Film Festival, I had to remind myself that I wasn't going on holiday. Yes, there's golf and scuba diving (neither of which are ever distractions at Toronto or Sundance) and sightseeing in a part of the world I've never visited.

But I'm not here to relax. While I may be able, in the coming week, to play hooky occasionally from the movies and see the wonders of Dubai (including a dinner scheduled for Tuesday at At.mosphere, a restaurant near the top of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building), I'm still here covering a film festival.

As with most such festivals, I come in having seen several of the most visible films: Life of Pi, Cloud Atlas, Hitchcock, The Master. But in scanning the DIFF schedule, I found more movies than I'll have time to see in a week.

And, unlike Sundance or Toronto, where I'm at least partially devoting time to scouting for films that might work for the film clubs I program, I come to DIFF with no agenda other than to see movies from around the world that seem interesting.

This commentary continues on my website.