Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World by US comedian Albert Brooks was one of the final films to be shown at the week-long festival that ended on Saturday.
In the movie, Brooks’ character is dispatched by the US government to India and Pakistan, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, to find out what makes Muslims laugh as a means of understanding their culture.
Ultimately his mission fails, mainly due to his inability to comprehend local culture and social nuances.
It may seem odd for an American to go to South Asia, and not the Middle East, to learn about Islam after the September 11, 2001, attacks by al-Qaida.
But Brooks, who wrote, directed and stars in the film, says this peculiarity highlights the underlying premise of the movie.
Lack of understanding
“One of the subtle things I think the movie was trying to say is that the US government really makes no distinction between Arab Muslims and South Asian Muslims. Once 9/11 happened, they’re afraid of all of them,” he said.
In one of the scenes caricaturing this lack of understanding among different cultures, Brooks’ character tells his American wife, “Your mother thinks a Muslim is a fabric.”
Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World received mixed reviews from audiences in Dubai.
However, many praised the film, saying it was refreshing to see a US production that did not vilify Muslims.
Zeinab, 18, from the United Arab Emirates, said: “It was different from the usual movies we see from America. It’s good to show others cultures of the world.”
Brooks, who previously directed The Muse and The In-Laws, has said that he would love to make a movie in an Arab country and that the film was a “good start” on a sensitive topic.
But, in a reflection of the issues the film discusses, the director has struggled to get the film distributed in the US.
Although the movie does not discuss religion and lightly ridicules Washington, he said the title caused Sony to refuse to distribute it, fearing reprisals from Muslims.
Sony said it had passed on the film because of merit.
As well as Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, the film festival has showcased the finest in Arab cinema.
Terrorism, post-war trauma, love, laughter and longing for social liberation have been among the themes of works that have portrayed the reality of the Middle East.
The festival opened with a screening of Paradise Now, a movie by Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad about suicide bombings, which had already won awards at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Egyptian actor Adel Imam
Egyptian superstar actor Adel Imam was honoured as the festival showed his movies Terrorism and Kebab and The Embassy is in the Building, which tackles the sensitive issue of Egyptian-Israeli relations.
The festival included the acclaimed documentary Being Osama by the young Lebanese filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour and his former university professor US-Canadian Tim Schwab.
The 45-minute film exposes racism and intolerance within North American society after the 9/11 attacks, for which Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility, by showing the ordeals of five Arab men in Canada who share his first name.