In the stillness of the night a controversy stirred and rumbled on the seabed of powerful demands. It catapulted upward towards the rippling lights, out into the siren-like camera clicks. Bursts of white light struck mountainous waves that roared across the ocean. Splashes of fury touched the tips of stars, ascending with their light to the highest mount where those demands could be met, leading to necessary changes. The home of the gold statue, The Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences was flooded by a Twitter storm. Earlier this month, that same wind that propelled the #OscarsSoWhite controversy barreled onto the shores of the southeastern coast of the Persian Gulf. Erupting from the sea foam, a goddess drenched in virtue, dripping on to the red carpet influence and diversity, creating a path for global change in the world of cinema. Inclusion struck an unforgettable pose, making its debut at the Dubai International Film Festival.
The Dubai International Film Festival is unique not only for its international guests and film selection but also for its location.
Dubai is Dubai is Dubai!
It is a film festival to be reckoned with. The red carpet leads you straight into a space vaulted with crystal clear chandeliers, a scene of grandiose opulence replicating the ballroom scene in the classic movie Beauty and the Beast.
The highlights of the festival started immediately with the one and only, purple saber carrying, no holds bar Samuel L. Jackson. He is the busiest and most sought after actor today, recognized this year with DIFF’s Life Time Achievement Award. The pool of admirers and international journalist swarmed the festival in hopes to witness him receiving this great honor. However in the mist of all this frenzy Samuel L. Jackson made sure to bring attention towards the order of the day which was inclusion in the cinema industry. As a natural born orator, he captivated the room with a biographic interview that left the audience spellbound. The discussion was very candid and left no rock unturned, revealing how much more the film industry has to achieve in promoting inclusion. The world took notice in the nascent stages of his film career after filming Jungle Fever. His talent was so potent that in 1991 the prestigious Cannes film festival created a first time category awarding him Best Supporting Actor. This award was never before given and never after. However, he still continued to struggle through the trenches of the labyrinthine film industry, “I was in the right place. Just wasn’t my time,” he stated wisely. 20-plus years later that statement stands as many performers feel as though it isn’t their place and might not ever be their time.
President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, added her own spin to the topic of inclusion. She was a traveling torch of hope as she lit the DIFF stage with her presence. A prime example of an unstoppable force while personifying cultural diversity with a simple claim: “Why not me?” The moderator grabbed the opportunity to ask the Academy President, “will Muslims ever be seen as something other than terrorists on the big screen?”. Although a heavy question, she responded with dexterity, reminding the audience that it’s not in her control, while making it very clear that she was not disconnected from or blind to the issues at hand under the scope of inclusion. She cheerfully introduced the concept of the The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences movie museum which will be located in Los Angeles. Through this museum, the hope is to acknowledge an ever-evolving art form that holds the power to bring together the world. Cheryle Boone Isaacs was perceived as a Joan of Arc in the battle to introduce inclusion in the cinema industry but that is not the case. Ironically the only thing that can cure the lack of diversity in film is film.
Apparently, Kodak could not have found a better time to reintroduce itself in the film community. Jeff Clarke, Kodak chief executive, discussed with renewed energy the resurgence of film as an artistic medium in entertainment. Kodak plans to introduce the new Super 8 camera in schools across the globe. The plan: to engage a range of students from different backgrounds and give them the opportunity to share their stories with one another and beyond. Kodak acknowledged the uniqueness of a child’s mind, mentioning Steven Spielberg who at a young age began filming grand tales. Kodak will work across the Middle East to bring back projection and film processing labs so that artists can have their work seen as they intended. Plans are also being made to work with every multiplex in order to bring back film, by funding at least one theater from every chain.
The Dubai International Film Festival is building bridges and reminding us of the power cinema can wield. The sheer talent behind the films chosen at this festival was unforgettable. Dubai understands the need for innovation and change in all facets of cinema culture. The wildly received documentary Gaza Surf Club was born for the moment, like a surfer waiting for that perfect wave. A film filled with hope reminding us all to seize the moment. The shorts at DIFF were a sensation. One that really struck audiences was AYNY, a beautifully told story with touches of soft romance wrapped in a harsh theme. The Dubai International Film Festival has set the stage for other film festivals to model as a blueprint for diversity in cinema.
I have a visceral feeling that the best is yet to come. Here’s to a new year of inclusion in films.