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The Dubai International Film Festival has finalised the highly anticipated Muhr Feature line-up for this year’s Festival, adding a further nine films from across the region. A fundamental part of the Festival since its inception in 2006, the full Muhr Feature line-up of 18 captivating films will be screened during the Festival, running from 6 – 13 December 2017 at the home of DIFF, Madinat Jumeirah.

The competition entries will be reviewed by an esteemed jury panel of industry professionals, who will determine the recipients of the much sought-after cash prize to help further their filmmaking careers. The Muhr Feature programme has the following categories: Best Muhr Fiction Feature, Best Muhr non-Fiction Feature, Special Jury Prize Muhr Feature (Fiction or Non- Fiction), Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress.

Joining the line-up is ‘Benzine’ from Tunisian director Sarra Abidi, the first feature endeavour from the young filmmaker. Salem and Halima have received no news of their son since he illegally left for Italy. Spending each passing day in agony, the couple try to find the truth amongst conflicting stories of his fate.

Celebrated Emirati poet, scriptwriter and award-winning director Nujoom Alghanem returns to DIFF with the world premiere of ‘Sharp Tools’. The two-time Muhr winner takes audiences on a unique journey into the cultural shifts surrounding the acclaimed work of UAE artist Hassan Sharif. Sharif introduced a new and different wave of artwork in the early eighties, which immediately drew accusations that his work was destructive and divisive. Fast forward to today and Sharif is now a legendary figure not only in the Emirates, but also across the region. Yet throughout the changing tides, Sharif remains tied to the sincerity that drove his significant artwork three decades earlier; his sharp tools and the philosophy they represent.

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Iraqi-Canadian filmmaker Baz Shamoun brings ‘73 Degrees Celsius’ to DIFF for its world premiere. Based on true events, the Enjaaz-supported non-fiction film was captured over the course of eight years of violence, invasion and dashed dreams through the eyes of three children – Asia, Rayan and Ali. From diverse ethnic backgrounds, the children find their future in peril after a violent attack during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Shamoun documents their travel from their homeland to a small humanitarian community in Germany, led by Yazidi humanist Hadi Baba Sheikh. There the three become friends and promise to see each other again after their return to Iraq, but the meeting in 2014 never occurs due to the rise of ISIS. A harrowing look at the toll of war and the treacherous path to democracy, ’73 Degrees Celsius’ wonders with the three children if they can change their destiny, or will be faced with constant turmoil, trapped in space and time by perpetual desolation.

Joining Shamoun is British-Iraqi filmmaker and photographer Koutaiba Al-Janabi, with his second feature-length film and world premiere, ‘Stories of Passers Through’. Al-Janabi already made waves across the industry with his first feature, ‘Leaving Baghad’, winning a British Independent Film Award and earning a nomination for the Cinema for Peace Award at the 2010 Berlinale. He returns with a personal journey reflecting alienation, longing, fear and escape, with an experimental approach to style and narrative. ‘Stories of Passers Through’ was shot bit by bit over 30 years, and is a diary and introspective look of Al-Janabi’s own journey leaving his home country, Iraq, and the toll it took on his own understanding of identity and belonging.

Making her feature debut at the Festival is British-Tunisian director Claire Belhassine with ‘The Man Behind the Microphone’. Hedi Jouini is the most popular musical star in Tunisian history, known as the “Frank Sinatra of Tunisia”. His songs continue to inspire revolutionaries and conservatives alike, striking the heart of the post-colonial social and political upheaval of Tunisia and its continuing search for identity in the wake of the Arab Spring. Yet some of Jouini’s family never knew the nation worshipped him. Following Belhassine’s discovery of her grandfather’s hidden fame, this stunning non-fiction reveals the incredible story of the godfather of Tunisian music.

Acclaimed Moroccan filmmaker Nour-Eddine Lakhmari brings to DIFF the highly-anticipated international premiere of ‘Burnout’, the third instalment after blockbuster hits Zero’ and ‘Casanegra’. Written and directed by Lakhmari and currently dominating the Moroccan box office, ‘Burnout’ weaves a tale between a city’s rich and poor in West and East Casablanca. Thirteen-year-old Ayoub is a shoe shiner who spends his day working on the boulevard to earn enough to buy a prosthetic leg for his handicapped mother. Forty-year-old Jad is an entrepreneur with a 28-year-old wife. Aida, a young resident in a hospital, lives a double life as a call-girl for rich and powerful men to make extra money.

French-Tunisian filmmaker Nacer Khemir to the Festival with the world premiere of ‘Whispering Sands’. The Enjaaz-supported feature follows a Canadian woman with a secret past and a cheerful guide as they explore their history and memories in the desert. The woman seeks a place in the desert to make amends with her past, and along the way requests the guide to share his own memories. He tells her stories from his childhood and a vanished world, but as they travel the cheerful guide learns that his 25-year-old twin boys are undertaking an adventure at the risk of their lives. As the woman reaches her spot in the desert and her journey ends, the guide’s own adventure must begin to catch his children before it is too late.

After turning festival heads with ‘The Immortal Sergeant’ in 2013, Syrian director and scriptwriter Ziad Khalthoum returns with ‘Taste of Cement’. Nominated for the prestigious European Film Academy Documentary Award – Prix Arte, the feature is a captivating tale of what it means to live in exile in a war-torn world with no possibilities to return home. ‘Taste of Cement’ tells the story of refugee Syrian construction workers trapped indoors due to strict curfews as they work on a skyscraper in Lebanon, all while the war still rages in their home country. Sheltered from the outside world and stripped of basic human rights, they watch the news from Syria on a small, shared TV and cling to the hope of one day returning home.

Algerian filmmaker Sofia Djama’s debut feature film, ‘The Blessed’ finalises the Muhr Feature line-up. After premiering at the Venice Film Festival to a bevy of awards, including Best Actress for Lyna Khoudri, Djama brings the coming-of-age drama to DIFF audiences. Set in Algiers two decades after the civil war of 1988, ‘The Blessed’ follows a fateful night in the city as Amal and Samir decide to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary in a restaurant. While on their way, they share their views on Algeria. Amal tells of lost illusions and Samir about the necessity to cope with them. At the same time, their son Fahim and his two friends wander in a hostile Algiers neighbourhood. ‘The Blessed’ stars acclaimed actors Sami Bouajila and Nadia Kaci.

Masoud Amralla Al Ali, DIFF’s Artistic Director, commented on the Muhr Feature line-up: “The Muhr Feature category plays a key role in showcasing and supporting the development of exceptional filmmaking. Many of the directors in this year’s line-up first appeared at the Festival with short films, so to return with full-length features is testament to the development of their careers. The number of female filmmakers from the region joining the 2017 category is wonderful to see, as they use the medium of film to share their voice and perspectives. Spanning a host of different genres, I am sure that the audiences at DIFF will be swept away by their artistic talents.”

Antoine Khalife, Director of the Arab Programme, added: “These 18 films portray the richness and diversity of the Arab World and together form a fantastic Muhr Feature selection for the 14th Festival. With captivating storytelling and engaging themes; from identity and despair, to hope and sacrifice, each film takes us on its own journey of discovery. We are delighted to see new and returning directors to the programme who each year add weight to the region’s flourishing film industry.”

Ticket packages are on sale now for the 14th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival which will take place from 6 – 13 December, 2017. For more information on ticket packages and registration for media, students and industry professionals, visit the DIFF website at diff.ae.

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