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Dubai International Film Festival opens with memories of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela

Dubai: The opening night of the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) on Friday is invariably soaked with glamour, but the inaugural night of the tenth edition of Diff was also about remembering the South African leader Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday.

Hollywood actor Martin Sheen, who was honoured with the Diff’s Lifetime Achievement Award, described Mandela as one of the most inspiring leaders that he had encountered. “We should be grateful that we lived in a time when we knew such a great person who fought for apartheid,” said Sheen on the red carpet. He told reporters that he had met Mandela before he became a president.

The father of actor Charlie Sheen, who has acted in films including The Amazing Spiderman and hit TV series West Wing, was also gracious about being honoured with a lifetime achievement award.  “Winning an award is unexpected. It’s like spotting a flower while you are on a stroll. You pause and it takes you by surprise. And you are thankful that you are alive,” said Sheen.  The actor was also thrilled about watching the Saudi Arabian feature Wajda and advised Arab filmmakers to stick to their roots.
“I was moved by it … It really makes you realize in that culture how hard it is to be a woman. We take it for granted,” said Sheen.  But not all stars took their time to stop at the packed press pen.

Hollywood actress Cate Blanchett glided down the red carpet in a burgundy gown and heavy gold necklace and limited her interaction to two words: “of course”, when asked if she was enjoying Dubai.

Earlier in the day, the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) chairman urged viewers to watch the film Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom, which chronicles the life of the anti-apartheid icon. “I woke up sad but then again I am not really sad because this [film] is a beautiful tribute not just for Dubai but for the world,” said Juma on the sidelines of the inaugural day of the 10th edition of Diff. He expressed his hope that children and families would flock to the theatres to learn about the world’s “best teacher”. The biopic, Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom featuring Idris Elba in the title role and British actress Naomi Harris as his wife, will premiere at the Diff this Tuesday at Madinat Arena. Harris is confirmed to attend the screening.

“The timing of our film is very interesting. I just heard that we are screening it on the day of his physical burial … He taught people how to be calm and struggle in a peaceful way. Probably only him and Gandhi could have taught us that,” said Juma. As many as 174 feature films, shorts and documentaries from around the world, will be screened during the festival.

Mandela: A Long Walk To Freedom is not the sole feature to highlight freedom struggle. The opening film this year is Omar. Directed by Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe winning Palestinian director Hany Abu Assad, the drama is a psychological thriller set in the occupied West Bank.

“It’s an honour to inaugurate Diff with an Arab film. We wouldn’t have completed the film without the support of Enjaaz [Diff’s post-production and production funding support programme]. This is like being given a tribute given by my own family,” said Abu Assad. Omar, made on a budget of $1.8million, is also on the best foreign language film long-list for next year’s Academy Awards.