A screen icon makes his last movie with a Dubai director
Last year, UAE sensors cut 45 minutes from Martin Scorsese’s epic, three-hour tale of high nance and bad behaviour, The Wolf Of Wall
Street. The cuts drew worldwide attention and re-ignited one of the oldest debates in the GCC: cultural sensitivities or artistic expression?
But go back two or three decades, and it was easy to see a lm in Dubai the way a director intended – and one man who saw as many as he could is 34-year-old Elia Petridis, a Greek-Lebanese Hollywood director who spent his rst 18 years in the emirate.
“Piracy was everywhere [during the 1980s] and one thing Dubai did very early was put the kibosh on it,” says Petridis, who is in town to promote his Hollywood movie, The Man Who Shook The Hand Of Vicente Fernandez. “They opened theatres and said piracy is illegal. Before that
we would get videos from two shops in Dubai – VideoScope and Video 2000. I’d leave with a bag of at least 15 movies at a time. I’d watch French lms such as The 400 Blows, and
Gremlins and The Goonies.” Growing up in Jumeirah in the 1980s, self-confessed movie nerd Petridis was making lms aged 13 at American School Of Dubai. At 16 he joined the New York Film Academy before moving on to the USC School Of Cinematic Arts in LA at 18. But before he moved overseas, he used to supplement those video sessions with trips to the cinema in Dubai.
“I’d go to Al Nasr cinema. It was a big room, with big seats and a balcony. Now it would feel like an opulent art house cinema. Can you imagine balcony seating? I miss that stuff,” he smiles. “Everybody went, because for a while it was only one of two places you could watch movies: there and the Hyatt Regency were the only games in town. I saw Titanic there.” The ’90s saw more cinemas and more Hollywood lms on Dubai screens. “1997 to 1998 was a big year for lm in general, it was a renaissance,” says Petridis. “I saw here. It wasn’t cut. Seven The Usual Suspects, Gladiator, all uncut.”
The question of modernday censorship raises its head and while Petridis is quick to point out that he understands and accepts the cultural reasons for slicing and dicing, it’s a frustration from a director’s perspective. “I saw Dumb And
Dumber To here, and they cut it. That makes me sad. It’s a talking point and a cultural thing. I was here before they did that. If you’re going to do that to the The Wolf Of Wall Street, you’re defeating the purpose of the lm.”
Petridis’ directorial debut is unlikely to trouble the censors.
The Man Who Shook The Hand
Of Vicente Fernandez stars Western great Ernest Borgnine, who made the lm when he was 96 years old. It’s the tale of a man in an old people’s home staffed by Latino staff, who treat him differently when they nd out he once shook the hand of Fernandez, a man dubbed the Mexican Frank Sinatra. It’s a tale of regret: Borgnine’s character Max Page watches an old Western every day he once believes he had a chance to star in. It was Borgnine’s last lm before his death in 2012.