Daniel Kasman at the Auteurs explains the significance of this year’s edition for the fledgling festival: “Too many cities up-and-coming and desiring for international attention may at once fragment the possibility for an internationally influential Middle Eastern film festival. Is it the programming that brings the character to the city, or the other way around? And how does the audience define and shape both those things? It is too early to tell the character of MEIFF, but what is apparent is that with its attempt at a rounded lineup aimed at a heterogeneous audience in a unique kind of international city, its strategy may be less about stark definition than forming a new kind of festival, one literally at a crossroads.”
Kasman also has a host of reviews from the festival, including an essay on Tahani Rached’s “Neighbors”, which he calls a “rich documentary [that] has the rare ability to focus on the streets to achieve an astute and pertinent sense of grander, external national and global allegories of political, social, and class changes across the 20th century.”
Spout’s Karina Longworth also tries to feel out the festival, noting, “I had one primary, two-part question coming into the MEIFF experience: What does a festival in the UAE spearheaded by star Western film festival talent look like, and who is its audience? In other words, how does the intersection of U.A.E. Resources and American curatorial talent reflect, in a broader sense, the intersection of the Muslim world and global pop and capitalist culture? What I hadn’t quite banked on is the Mall Multiplex factor: despite the obvious cultural differences, MEIFF resembles most regional North American festivals (and, more significantly, major international festival/market hybrids like Toronto and Berlin) in that the bulk of its programming unspools in shopping centers, on screens adjacent to theaters welcoming everyday patrons to everyday cinema fare.”
Longworth also reviews Yousry Nasrallah’s “Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story,” observing that “[its existence] within the contemporary Egyptian film industry mirrors the uneasiness of storytelling in a less-than-open state that’s at its story’s core. Both visually and politically provocative, the film has managed to triumph over controversy and censorship to become a huge critical and commercial hit in its home country. A triptych-within-a-story revealing women as the invisible victims of the Muslim world’s pains of growing into modernity, the epic drama sometimes wears its muckraking intentions a little too plainly on its sleeve, but its fusion of campy/soapy pleasures into serious social satire is unforgettable.”
As noted, Valery Todorovsky’s musical “Hipsters” took home the Black Pearl Award for Best Narrative Film, a $100,000 prize. Variety’s Leslie Felperin calls the film “a peculiar variation on the run of Soviet-era nostalgia pics coming out of Russia lately.” Screen Daily’s Dan Fainaru writes: “A portrait of a grim period, ‘Hipsters’ is almost a Russian version of ‘Grease’ – as fanciful and unrealistic as its American counterpart, but with more of a political subtext to sustain it.”
Jon Wilks runs down the festival’s closing night for Time Out Dubai.