Habibi, the Gaza Strip’s first feature film in 15 years, has won Best Film, Best Actress, and Best Editor twice in the Muhr Arab Feature section of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF). It also took away the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) prize.
Habibi Rasak Kharban or Darling, Something’s Wrong with Your Head, a modern take on the tragic love story of Majnun and Layla, is a coproduction from Palestine, the USA, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates, supported by Enjaaz, the post-production fund of the Dubai Film Festival.
It was directed, written, edited, and produced by Susan Youssef, who is originally Lebanese but was brought up in the US.
Youssef cried when she received the award on Wednesday, according to AFP, and in her acceptance speech said: "I hope we can show the film in Gaza". She said that she began shooting the film in Gaza, but was forced to relocate after Israeli authorities blocked her from travelling to the territory.
The young filmmaker told AFP that she was prompted to make the film, a tale of forbidden love in the Gaza Strip, after she "fell in love with a theatre director in Gaza."
She said that Habibi cost less to make than "a luxury car in Dubai."
The Dubai International Film Festival results are in, and Habibi is only one of the films from the South Mediterranean to take away awards.
Lebanon - UAE coproduction Sector Zero by Nadim Mishlawi, an exploration of modern Lebanon’s collective memory through Beirut’s Karantina neighbourhood, won First Prize in the Muhr Arabic Documentaries. The special jury prize in the same category went to Halabja - The Lost Children by Akram Hidou, an Iraq - Syria - Germany coproduction that follows a young Kurd’s return to Iraqi Kurdistan to find his family, 21 years after Saddam Hussein’s poison attack on the town.
On The Road to Paradise by Moroccan-born director Uda Benyamina, set against the backdrop of immigration to Europe, won the Arab Shorts award. In the same category, Lebanese production A Place to Go by Wajdi Elian received a special mention.
During the festival, Najwa Najjar, Palestinian director of Pomegranates and Myrrh, received 25,000 US dollars for her forthcoming thriller Eyes of a Thief, as one of the filmmakers awarded funding at this year's Film Connection Awards.
Egyptian acting legend Gamil Rateb, who notably starred alongside Omar Sharif in Lawrence of Arabia, dedicated his Lifetime Achievement Award to those who died in Egypt’s uprisings this year.
As it winds down, the Dubai International Film Festival is already preparing for next year’s event, to continue to encourage regional cinema, beyond films such as Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible 4 whose international premiere kicked off the festival.
“I don’t want this festival to go too commercial because I think we are here to help independent film and find new talents in the Arab world and from Asia and Africa. It’s fine to open with a Mission Impossible but I don’t want us to like it so much that we forget why we exist in the first place,” Abdulhamid Juma, the chairman of the festival told Hollywood Reporter.
For a full list of this year’s winners, click here.