It was a night of eclectic performances and on a different setting, two of the outstanding performers would have had the crowd calling for an encore. The official launch of the 10th Muscat International Film Festival presented by the Ministry of Tourism in association with Oman Airports was star-studded and during its opening night held on March 27, some of the most talented and brightest stars of the Arabian cinema — from actors, to film critics, to movie producers and filmmakers— all descended to Muscat to take part in the revelry.
Hosted at the auditorium of the Public Authority for Civil Aviation in Seeb, the red carpet, the glitzy clothes and the vintage cars made the night a true affair to remember. The jury members for this year came from different backgrounds and countries — all expert in their own fields and on the five-day festival, they will be doing the tough job of selecting winners and films that would go into the hall of records.
While the launching night was in a frenzy entertained by the unique talents of Dutch whistling champion Geert Chatrou and Indian saxophonist Lavanya, performances by Danish Palestinian percussionist Simona Abdallah and Russian Jaw harpist Olena Uutai were the crowd favourites as they were not only beguiling, they were without a doubt uniquely ingenious.
Uutai, dressed in a flashy and feathery concoction of everything that would have been difficult to pull off if it was worn by someone else, not only howled, hoot and neighed in her three performances, she showcased so much variety and she performed with incomparable gusto that she had the crowd at the palm of her hands as soon as she began.
In barely 10-minutes, her shamanic performance introduced what she was all about. She brought attention not only to the beauty of the sound of nature but to the xomus (or “khomus”), a traditional jaw harp, so small in size but allowed her to conjure different octaves of sound.
Abdallah, on the other hand, was a different performer altogether. Dressed in simple pants and loose shirt and armed with an Arab Darbuka drum, her fingers were nimble conjuring melodies and beats that forces one to dance in wild abandon. With but three performances, she was able to raise a few of the crowd from their seat and have the others stand for an ovation.
Omani talent Haitham al Rafi wrapped the evening with three popular songs that showcased his calibre as singer and performer.
Some of the big names in Oman cinema present during the launching include television and theatre artist Fakhriya Kahmis, writer and film critic Abdullah Habib, documentary film director Rashid Al Yafei, journalist and producer Khitam al Syd, filmmaker Khalid al Hadhry and Omani academic in the field of Media Yaqoob al Subhi.
Flying all the way from Egypt is actor Amr Waked, who recently starred in Hollywood produced movie Geostorm alongside big names like Gerard Butler. The actor, who has to take two flights covering 13-hours, was fascinated and find the country not only beautiful but the festival important for a number of reasons.
Waked, in an interview with Oman Observer, shared that he thinks festivals are important “because they are a hub for culture.’
He said, “This is where you can come and watch 10 different films from 10 different places of the world in one location. And I think this is where the idea of festival is important because lots of these films will not get a chance of a commercial release. So they are offering opportunity to watch movies that you will never watch unless you come to the festival, Culturally, I think this is very very important.”
Waked shared that when one looks at the numbers, it’s easy to tell that Arab cinema is shrinking and not growing.
“A lot of new cinemas are opening up. But when you look at the numbers, you would see that Arab cinema is shrinking and not growing. For example, in Egypt 10 years ago, a good movie makes $4 or $5 million which is about E£15 or E£ 20 million. Today, the biggest makes 30 million pounds which is 2 million dollars because of devaluation. The actual industry is shrinking.”
On how to improve Arab cinemas, Waked shared, “I think cinema in the Arab world needs emancipation. It needs freedom. I think we have too many taboos. You can’t discuss what really matters to you. What really matters — belief, politics etc. All of these taboos bring our cinemas behind.”
He added, “I think it’s time that we challenge all of these taboos. And cinema is a product of choice. We don’t force anyone to watch the movie. If you don’t like what you see, don’t watch.”
For Omani documentary maker Rashid Al Yafei who has created films on frankincense and Abalone of the Dhofar region in his previous works shared that what is exciting about the festival is that “one can see documentaries from different parts of the world coming here.”
“These films allow me to gather inspiration but also allow me to see things that are happening to the different parts of the world,” he said.
A total of 115 films, 14 of which are long feature films, will be screened until March 31 in different cinemas in Muscat. (With reports from Lakshmi Kothaneth)