Debt-hit Dubai tries to keep up glitz at filmfest

Thu Dec 10, 2009 2:12pm EST
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By Andrew Hammond

DUBAI (Reuters) - Once a central player in Dubai's ambitions to be a major world city, its international film festival kicked off this week with the shadow of the emirate's debt troubles hanging over it.

Over 160 films from around the world -- many of them by Arab directors -- play over seven days in the Gulf Arab emirate that shocked global markets last month with its announcement that a state-linked conglomerate was seeking a delay in debt repayment.

The festival was launched to great fanfare in 2004, when Dubai -- a member of the United Arab Emirates federation -- was a boomtown on a mission to become a Singapore-style global trade and tourism center where money was easy and living was fast.

But the tone was more downbeat on Wednesday night.

Gulf Arab, Egyptian and a few Indian actors walked down a red carpet graced in previous years by stars such as George Clooney and Goldie Hawn as Dubai -- promoted as the "vision" of its ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum -- sought Hollywood's eye.

The stars who turned up, including Indian superstar Amitabh Bachchan who received a lifetime achievement award, were in defensive mode about the city of 1.7 million Asians, Arabs and Europeans that has reveled in excess and opulence.

"This festival is something Dubai should be proud of. Everything that's being said about Dubai is not true. We are living in comfort," Emirati actress Hala al-Khatib told reporters.

"It has such energy, this city. I very much enjoy the 'yes we can' attitude in Dubai," said British actress Natalie Dormer, who stars in "City of Life," a drama in English and Hindi about life in Dubai that premieres this week.   Continued...

<p>Queen Noor Al Hussin of Jordan, widow of the late King Hussein, arrives at the opening ceremony of the (DIFF) DubaiInternational Film Festival in Dubai December 9, 2009.REUTERS/Mosab Omar</p>