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British film scholar Sheila Whitaker, who was director of Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) international programme since the festival’s inception in 2004, died in London on Monday.

In a tribute on the festival’s website on Tuesday, DIFF artistic director Masoud Amrallah Al Ali said Whitaker “left behind a legacy of love, dedication, professionalism and memories”.

“She had been with the festival for 9 years, since it began and she was determined and looking forward to the 10th edition, but sadly she was unable to finish the journey.”

Whitaker was director of the London Film Festival from 1987 to 1996, and head of programming at the London’s National Film Theatre in from 1984 to 1990.

In one of her many interviews with tabloid! during her time with DIFF, Whitaker shared the details of her job.

“It is a difficult job, because I have to choose films from some of the biggest movie industries in the world. I watch hundreds of films throughout the year and then have to select just 25 for DIFF. It really isn’t an easy task.

“When I watch a movie it is important for me to think about all the aspects of the movie and film making.

“I must consider the budget, the time it took and really try and understand what the director is trying to say.”

In his message, Ali highlighted Whitaker’s special interest in Arabic filmmaking.

“I always wondered why was she attached to Palestine, why did she love Mahmoud Darwish, and why did she vigorously defend their rights, why is she an activist, and why is she programming for an Arab film festival and then I finally understood...In her final hours, she was listing to Um Kulthoom and Fairouz, and her two nurses couldn’t understand why. I was exactly like those 2 nurses. Until I found the true reason.

She dedicated her life to understanding the emerging cinema…From the Arab world, Iran, and Latin America. She engaged with the people of those regions, with their culture and true nature. She knew them well and she formed so many friendships.”

The 10th edition of DIFF takes place from December 6 to 14.