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Dubai: Delphine Garde-Mroueh Discusses Arabian Nights Section

Variety logo Variety 12/6/2016 Alissa Simon
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Former photographer Delphine Garde-Mroueh, who was born and raised in France, programs the Arabian Nights section at the Dubai Film Festival, where she also oversees program administration at large. She spoke about this year’s selection and what makes this core section of the fest stand out. Excerpts:

Tell me a little bit about the films in this year’s Arabian Nights section. Do you see any trends?  

They all call for a dialogue with the audience and the protagonists. They are about finding or believing in hope.  This year however there are many titles related to women. Not necessarily feminist, but sensitive to women and some by women directors as well. It wasn’t an intentional choice, but rather circumstantial since many of the titles also deal with the idea of change: traditions versus aspirations. Even the ones that aren’t about women somehow highlight their absence, or the dominance of a male world, such as “The Challenge,” for example. There is also a fair amount of humor — maybe dark humor — but it is present and felt in “Solitaire,” “The Traveler,” “French Tour,” “A Day For Women” and “Brooks, Meadows and Lovely Faces.”

 How did the Arabian Nights section start?

  It started with the festival and was originally curated by Festival Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali, then by Antonia Carver. It was a perfect section for DIFF’s original motto “Bridging cultures, meeting minds,” as well as the fact Dubai is a very cosmopolitan city in the Gulf region. Plus, it was post 9/11 and there was an obvious need for a better understanding of the Arab world, as well as a platform to present and discuss related issues.

What differentiates it from the Muhr Feature competition? 

 The common element between Arabian Nights and the Muhr Feature section is the subject has to be related to the Arab world. However, Arabian Nights is open to directors from all around the world, not only Arab or of Arab origin as is required for Muhr Feature. Arabian Nights offers an outsider’s perspective on the Arab world as well.

 How many years have you been curating this section?

I have been curating Arabian Nights for three years; however, I worked with Antonia Carver prior to that when she was the curator.

 What are you looking for in your selection?

  First, a sense of surprise. Something that lasts longer than the viewing moment. Moreover, a certain balance between fiction and non-fiction; countries; subjects and themes and the “je ne sais quoi” that makes you want to share it with others.

 How many films do you see in order to whittle it down to the 15 in the section?

 It depends on the year, but somehow between 150 and 200. I also view many submissions for the Muhr Feature competition.

 Do you see most of your films at festivals or as submissions?

 Most of the films are selected from submissions or by chasing them down after research. Some come from suggestions from other colleagues or contacts. Some films we have been tracking for several years. Unfortunately, I do not have the flexibility to attend many festivals.

What is your background?

Born in France and very French till age 17. Then moved to the States for a year. Then travelled a bit and studied Fine Arts in France. Graduated with a photography project related to Lebanon. Moved to Lebanon after that. Stayed 13 years. Taught fine arts, photography and journalism. Worked as a photographer as well. Then moved to Dubai in 2006. Started with DIFF in program administration and guest relations combined. Worked on the first edition and never left!

 What do you do for fun?

I read, and it is always difficult for me to have to choose between watching one more film or reading a couple more chapters. So, when I have a little more time, I try to do both. I also like to walk around the city and take photographs. I continue to work on some personal photo projects when time permits. I’m passionate about the Middle East, being a non-Arab in the Arab world! I love to exhaust my eyes on discovering the world around me and beyond.

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