The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) has announced the first collection of the hotly anticipated Muhr Arab feature film contestants highlighting the most significant films in the Arab world this year.

DIFF Artistic Director Masoud Amralla Al Ali expanded on the category: “From the Festival’s inauguration, we took the promotion and expansion of Arab cinema as our primary objective. The field for the Muhr Awards has grown from year to year because it is recognized in the region as a key platform for a film’s release and a powerful endorsement from the filmmaker’s peer community.”

“Filmgoers benefit because these films are the newest in the region, they are topical and powerful, and they present a cross-section of what is of concern in the Arab world at this moment. The filmmakers are some of our most important artists in the field today, so the Muhr Arab programming is not to be missed.”

A large selection of the films concern family ties, always a powerful force in Arab culture but even more so given the turmoil and change of the past years, when long-standing institutions have toppled and social unrest become more common.

One of the most important and prolific directors in the Moroccan ‘New Wave’ cinema, Jillali Ferhati returns to DIFF with Pillow Secrets, about a young woman is drawn violently back into her past after her mother’s death when she learns that she is the daughter of a dictatorial prostitute who ran her neighborhood with an iron fist.

Algerian director Amor Hakkar’s second feature The Proof delves deeply into relationships, marriage and gender roles in changing Algerian society with the story of Ali, an infertile taxi driver. Ali runs into trouble when he picks up Fatima, a young woman who is single and pregnant. When he is arrested and accused of being the father of Fatima’s unborn child, he must choose between revealing his infertility and sacrificing his masculinity, or keeping silent and risking a divorce with his wife. 

Laila Marrakchi’s follows up Marock with another family drama titled Rock The Casbah boasting some of the Arab world’s most acclaimed actors including Hiam Abbass, Nadine Labaki, Lubna Azabal, Morjana Alaoui and Omar Sharif. The film, set over three days in Tangiers, Morocco, revolves around the revelations and reconciliations between three sisters during a family gathering for the funeral of patriarch, Moulay Hassan (Sharif). As their father’s remains are prepared for burial, the three siblings find themselves unearthing some dramatic family secrets.

Award-winning Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Lasri brings his second feature They Are the Dogs from its world premiere at Cannes. The film tells the story of Majhoul, an old man imprisoned in 1981 during massive demonstrations for reform in Morocco. Upon his release 30 years later, a documentary team helps him find his family and reconstitute his life in a society in constant evolution.

Erfan Rashid, Director of the DIFF Arabic Program added: “One of the main aspects of the tenth edition’s Arab program are Arab citizens and their condition after the momentous changes that have recently taken place in their respective countries. These citizens, who are not only fueling these events but have become their main dynamo, are intensely engaged in facing their past in order to draw their own future. This year’s Arab films, whether made by young directors or masters, lay many questions requiring clear and immediate answers that will settle for nothing but the truth.”

The Muhr Arab Feature Awards winners will be announced at the closing ceremonies of the tenth annual DIFF, to be held December 6 to 14, 2013.