Yemeni filmmaker Khadija Al-Salami won the top prize at the Dubai International Film Festival for her powerful I Am Nujoom, Age 10 And Divorced, about Yemeni child brides. Adapted from the book of the same name, the film won a rave review from Jury President Lee Daniels. “I love this film so much,” he commented at the fest’s awards ceremony.

The award marks a spectacular redemptive arc for Al-Salami, who was herself a child bride in her native Yemen before escaping the abusive relationship.

Now in its 11th year, Dubai has cemented its position as one of the premier platforms for Arab cinema in the world. While its host city is synonymous with glittering high rises and seven star hotels, the festival has etched out a place as a much-needed serious-minded and thoughtful meeting place for the region’s filmmakers.

The best non-fiction film went to local Emirati director Nujoom Al Ghanem for Nearby Sky, while the jury prize was awarded to Palestinian director Salim Abu Jabal for Roshmia. Special mentions went to Letter To The King, I’m Dead and The Council.

Aside from a host of Arab and Indian celebrities, for whom Dubai has become an end of year destination, also in attendance this year were Emily Blunt, Eva Longoria and Kelsey Grammer.

Blunt was on hand to award Kuwaiti filmmaker Abdullah Boushahri the IWC Filmmaker Award’s $100,000 prize for Gulf cinema for his project The Water, which tells the story of a drought that struck the small Gulf state of Kuwait at the start of the 19th century before it was transformed with the discovery of oil.

Last year’s IWC winner Waleed Al Shehhi debuted his film Dolphins at this year’s fest.

“Our aim has always been to foster talent, encourage creativity and build the UAE – and the regional – film industry,” commented fest chairman Abdulhamid Al-Juma.

“Our filmmakers are not bound by the creative constraints of international markets, meaning their cinematic artistry isn’t fenced in,” added fest artistic director Masoud Amralla Al Ali.