The Dubai Film Festival (DIFF) opening was attended by Hollywood stars Kate Blanchett (right) and Martin Sheen and launched with the screening of Hany Abu Assad’s Omar, the first-ever Palestinian film to be tipped for an Oscar. The enthusiastically received tale of love and betrayal in the Israeli Occupied Territories of Palestine received a jury prize in the “Un Certain Regard” category – a closely-watched category for provocative films or follow-up works by emerging directors – at the Cannes festival in 2013. Abu Assad shot to prominence in 2006 with Paradise Now, about two would-be suicide bombers.

A total of 174 films from 57 different countries, including over 100 films from the Arab world, were screened at the festival in December. Arab films in competition for the Muhr awards included Egypt’s Factory Girl by Muhamed Khan, a film that explores sexism through events in the life of a young female factory worker. Other Arab films include Moroccan feature film Rock the Casbah by Laila Marrakchi with veteran Egyptian actor Omar Sharif in the cast, in addition to other Arab stars including Hiam Abbas and Lubna Azabal. Syrian filmmaker Mohamad Malas’s movie, which was shot in his homeland as conflict raged all around, Ladder to Damascus was also selected as ‘one to watch’ in Dubai.