Films mark Arab world’s diverse tradition – DIFF unveils line-up of films for Muhr Feature competition

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A still from ‘Starve Your Dog’ film by Morrocan filmmaker Hisham Lasri.
A still from ‘Starve Your Dog’ film by Morrocan filmmaker Hisham Lasri.

DUBAI, Nov 3: The first line-up of films to be showcased as part of the esteemed Muhr Feature category at the Dubai International Film Festival this year has been unveiled. In total eighteen prolific filmmakers from across the Arab region will bring their unique films, which draw on their heritage and family cultures, to a shortlist that celebrates the diverse traditions of the intricate Arab world.

The first feature shortlisted in the category is from highly praised filmmaker Hisham Lasri, who deeply connects with his Moroccan heritage in his latest film ‘Starve Your Dog’, which garnered praise at the Toronto International Film Festival, and marks the third time Lasri has been part of film competition at DIFF.Based in Casablanca, the film explores the effect the brutal former regime continues to have on the current day as it follows a once famous journalist desperate to make a comeback who lands a major interview with the dreaded interior minister of the despotic former regime.

Iraqi-born Halkwat Mustafa takes audiences back to his Kurdish roots with the world premiere of ‘El Clasico’ supported by DIFF’s post-production fund Enjaaz.Set in northern Iraq, the film tells the story of the unmatched optimism of youth as two young brothers decide to undertake a perilous journey and leave their homeland behind to capture the attention of one of their idol, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Famed for her multi-award winning documentary ‘Veils Uncovered’, Lebanese filmmaker Noura Kevorkian returns to DIFF with ‘23 Kilometres’, supported by Enjaaz. On the Damascus Road in Lebanon’s beautiful Bekaa Valley, an Armenian man with late stage Parkinson’s takes one last journey. This impressionistic film is a journey into the mind and life of a man with a crippling disease. In addition to the tremors and shakes, Barkev suffers from the lesser known ‘monster’ of Parkinson’s, the relentless hallucinations that swing him back and forth between time and space. A machine maker and an amateur cosmologist, Barkev can no longer speak. Yet through his journals, his machines, and powerful imagery with music, the film travels both physically and metaphorically into the past and the future of both the man and his country Lebanon, a country debilitated by sectarian division, not unlike Barkev’s diseased body, left a shell of its former self, dwelling on the past, unable to imagine its own future.


Recently returning from a warm welcome at the Toronto International Film Festival renowned documentary filmmaker Mai Masri returns to DIFF with her debut into the fiction field with ‘3000 Nights’, an Enjaaz supported film. Inspired by true stories of children born in Israeli prisons and young girls coming of age behind bars, the film tells the story of Layal who discovers she is pregnant after being wrongfully sentenced to eight years in prison. Determined to have the child, her decision is thrown into greater chaos as a group of fellow inmates launch a revolt against the prison administration.

Hailing from North Africa, Salem Brahimi’s ‘Let Them Come’, brings to the screen the breath-taking novel by Arezki Mellal. Rooted in Algeria’s conflict with fundamentalist communism,the feature tackles the toll political turmoil can take even within a single household. In the film, two siblings, Yasmina and Nouredine, are forced to continue their everyday lives in the face of immense pressure from their almighty mother, fundamentalist barbarity and a country with no accurate regime.


Another alumna of the Toronto International Film Festival, multiple-award winning Lebanese director Danielle Arbid presents her latest creation, ‘Parisienne’. Set in the 90s, the film follows Lina, a young girl who escapes the brutal Lebanese Civil War and relocates to Paris. Lonely and misplaced, she struggles to find something to keep her moving forward apart from fear and self-preservation. Determined to grow beyond the role of a stranger in the city, Lina searches for the very thing she believed to be impossible in her homeland; freedom.

Algerian filmmaker Abdallah Badis’ world premiere of ‘The Foreign Son’ plunges into the deep connection between a man and his estranged homeland. Upon receiving a call from Algeria, middle-aged Omar returns to his native land where a tortuous path seems to be unfolding in front of him, until a providential child lends a helping hand. Utilizing the pristine wilderness of Algeria to explore the history of the land and its people, ‘The Foreign Son’ travels a fine line between reality and fantasy while leading Omar to the heart of his estranged family.

The final film announced in the line-up to date, Enjaaz supported feature ‘Weight of the Shadow’ from esteemed filmmaker, Hakim Belabbes. Moroccan-born Belabbes will make his DIFF return after previously winning Best Scriptwriter for ‘Boiling Dreams’ in the Muhr Arab Feature at the 2011 Festival. His latest film tells the story of an elderly couple whose only desire is to find closure in the abrupt abduction of their son during the turbulent ‘Years of Lead’ in Morocco some 35 years ago.

Sharing his thoughts on the talented line-up, DIFF’s Artistic Director, Masoud Amralla Al Ali said: “Since its inception, showcasing regional talent has been at the heart of the Dubai International Film Festival, and the Muhr Feature category gives the perfect platform to share with the world the unique talents and brilliant cultural flavours that our regional filmmakers bring to the industry. We have selected some of the most gifted directors and filmmakers for this year’s competition and I’m sure audiences will enjoy all they have to offer.”


Antoine Khalife, Director of the Arab Programme, added: “The Muhr Feature competition has been running since 2006 and with each passing year the competition grows fiercer, with directors never failing to impress and delve into the region’s rich traditions and history. We are excited for this year’s lineup of gifted filmmakers whose creations promise to leave a lasting impression on audiences.”

The Muhr Feature Films will be showcased at the 12th annual Dubai International Film Festival, December 9-16, 2015. For more information and to purchase ticket bundle packages please visit

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