That mesmeric magic which Hollywood exerts on this world is undeniable, and we are going to watch this spell play out at the Dubai International Film Festival, which begins here this evening. Opening with the American work, Miss Sloane -- which though has been helmed by a Britisher, John Madden, who in India is well known for movies like the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Shakespeare in Love -- the festival will offer a fantastic range of pictures.
Miss Sloane has as its protagonist, Jessica Chastain -- an actor Madden had worked with in his earlier The Debt (2016). In her latest outing, Chastain plays a tough-minded lobbyist, Elizabeth Sloane -- who is daring enough to put her own career on a perilous path to push for gun control in the US, taking on in the process a very, very powerful opponent.
Two-time Oscar nominee, Chastain, who wanted to look and sound as real as Sloane -- someone who came to be known as a fearsome Washington lobbyist -- met several women who had taken on the administration. Chastain said in a recent media interview: “One woman really left me speechless when she said Washington was a contact sport. I didn’t quite understand what she meant and then I realised she meant you have to cosy up to congressmen and senators, who are primarily men, and she was basically saying men were very touchy with her. She definitely wasn’t OK with that, but it was a fact of life for her.”
Chastain, who has just wrapped up a movie, Woman Walking Ahead (how apt!), also averred that Miss Sloane, a political thriller, “is about ambition set in the American political system, but for me it’s a tale of this woman and addiction... And for this woman, her addiction is winning and this is a noble cause she takes on -- but is it because she’s noble or because it’s an unwinnable case? I was really intrigued by that.”
Miss Sloane also stars Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alison Pill and John Lithgow.
The festival in the course of eight days will screen 156 films crafted in 44 languages from 55 countries. The lineup includes 57 world premieres and over 90 titles that will be seen for the first time in the region.
The festival will -- true to its motto of Bridging Cultures -- show five Indian works, including Aditya Chopra’s Ranvir Singh-Vaani Kapoor starrer Befikre.
Haobam Paban Kumar makes his drama debut with his delightfully sustained Manipuri work, Lady of the Lake, set in the Loktak region, close to the Myanmar border. He uses the real-life government decision to relocate villagers and destroy their homes in 2011 as the powerful backdrop to his gently-paced story which focuses on depressed fisherman Tomba. His life and manner change when he finds a gun and, to his wife’s concern, becomes more confrontational.
Also a debut feature, Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation) by Shubhashish Bhutiani is a charmingly gentle narrative about a father and son getting to know each other while dealing with life’s realities. After a dream, 77-year-old Daya (Lalit Behl) feels he needs to travel to the sacred ghats at Benaras before he dies, and asks his son, Rajiv (Aadil Hussain), to accompany him. Their journey is laced with humour and pathos, and the two gradually make their peace, eventually arriving at Hotel Salvation, a place where the old spend their final days.
Shirley Abraham’s and Amit Madheshiya’s Hindi/Marathi documentary, The Cinema Travellers, explores the fast-waning days of the grand tradition of tent cinemas, which have long toured the remote villages of Maharashtra While beautiful to look at - from the aged equipment, enthralled viewers, faded tents and elderly projectionists - the movie is also insightful, as it delves into the precarious world of film exhibition on the road and the impact on it from pirated DVDs and cable television.
Also a documentary, When All Land Is Lost, Will We Eat Coal? talks about how mining has ravaged a small district in central India. Faiza Ahmad Khan demonstrates how the district’s air and water are severely contaminated, and the lives of its people affected.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Dubai International Film Festival.)