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Abu Dhabi Film Festival a Fantastic Mix of Cultures
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
South Asia Editor
Abu Dhabi Film Festival a Fantastic Mix of Cultures

The young Abu Dhabi Film Festival will showcase 70 features from about 28 countries. Twelve of these will be screened for the first time anywhere in the world, and four among them were partly funded by Sanad, the Festival’s moneybags that help develop and post-produce Arab movies.

One of the world premiers is “Paan Singh Tomar”. Helmed by Tigmanshu Dhulia and produced by UTV Motion Pictures, it narrates the tale of a champion runner in the Indian Army who turns into an outlaw wrecking havoc in the Chambal Valley. Irrfan Khan is Tomar.

The fourth edition of the 10-day cinematic event, renamed Abu Dhabi Film Festival instead of the earlier Middle East International Film Festival, will roll on October 14 with Randal Wallace’s American biographical work, “Secretariat”. The story of Penny Chenery, whose racehorse, Secretariat, won the 1973 Triple Crown, it will be acted out by Diane lane and John Malkovich among others.

The Festival will end on October 23 with Tsui Hark’s “Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame”, a fictional account of the exploits of Di Renjie, a celebrated official in China’s Tang Dynasty. This screening will be preceded by the Black Pearl Awards.

Peter Scarlet, the Festival’s Executive Director – who added a liberal dash of drama last year when he brought out some goats at the closing night gala of Grant Heslov’s-George Clooney-starrer “The Men Who Stare At Goats” — told The National, a daily from Abu Dhabi: “People in my business, we get praised and blamed for the movies we show, but we’re working in the vineyards trying to bring in the grapes, and if the stuff isn’t there, it isn’t there. I think overall we have a strong programme, and the presence of the Middle East on screen is going to be as strong as last year.”

The Festival will show a lot of cinema from all over the world, but then there is no forgetting the fact that work about the Middle East needs to be highlighted. Last year, the Festival made a determined effort to gently nudged audiences towards watching films set in the region. Must have been a tough task, though, for the lure of Hollywood is very strong.

At the same time, Scarlet, the former artistic director of the Tribeca Film Festival, added that a movie festival need not mimic the United Nations. It does not have to represent each country on this earth. The best of cinema must be played. Wherever they come from.

And what is this best this year? Here are a few examples. One of them, Mark Romanek’s “Never Let Me Go”, adapts Japanese born British author Kazu Ishiguro’s novel to tell us the story of human clones and organ donors through characters portrayed by Keira Knightley, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield. Francois Ozon’s screwball 1970s comedy, “Potiche”, with Gerard Depardieu and Catherine Deneuve as the trophy wife-turned-no-nonsense boss, and Julien Schnabel’s Middle Eastern epic, “Miral” where India’s Frieda Pinto essays a haughty Palestinian schoolgirl who eventually becomes a journalist and author, are also on the must-not-miss list.

Here are some more. Denis Villeneuve’s “Incendies”, traces the plight of two children as they carry out their mother’s last wish asking them to find their father and brother they have never met. The daughter leaves Montreal and heads to the Middle East, and the films goes back and forth in time. “It’s a very modern way to tell Greek tragedy,” Villeneuve says. “A very ancient and mythological story with modern warfare.”

Now, the world premieres in the Festival are: “Here Comes the Rain” by Bahij Hojeij (Lebanon, UAE), “Taming” by Nidal Al-Dibs (Syria), “Homeland” by George Sluizer (Netherlands), “A Man’s Story” by Varon Bonicos (UK), “Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace” by Harry Hunkele (USA), “In/Out of the Room” by Dina Hamza (Egypt), “Living Skin” by Fawzi Saleh (Egypt), “OK, Enough, Goodbye” by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia (Lebanon, UAE), “Qarantina” by Oday Rasheed (Iraq, Germany, UAE), “Sun Dress” by Saeed Salmeen (UAE), “Wrecked by Michael Greenspan” (Canada), and “Paan Singh Tomar” by Tigmanshu Dhulia (India).

The Festival has three competitions for features that offer cash awards worth one million USD. Along with the Narrative and Documentary Competitions be will be New Horizons, a competition for first- and second-time directors.

The other sections include Showcase, an international selection of outstanding movies eligible for the $30,000 Audience Award, and a section titled, “What in the World Are We Doing to Our World?”, films on the environment. There will also be a category on restored classics.

Short Films:

The is one of the few of its kind in the world that gives as much importance to shorts as it does to features. The Festival, which has just revealed part of its international lineup, includes a Competition section for shorts.

The Festival believes that short moviemaking is a vibrant part of the industry serving as a kind of laboratory where young directors can train, and established ones experiment with form and content. "Short films are more than just an exercise for beginners, although that is one of their essential functions, of course,” said Scarlet. “Above all, they should be seen as a fully-fledged cinematic art form, which engenders particularly imaginative kinds of storytelling. Short movies offer a level of artistic freedom that is irresistible, even to famous filmmakers and actors. The fact that many of them are more than happy to get involved in shorts for next to no financial reward is a telling sign of what an intriguing format this is.”

Eissa Saif Rashed Al Mazrouei, the Festival’s Project Director, averred “As we announced earlier this year, integrating the Emirates Competition into the Abu Dhabi Film Festival tremendously enriches the event’s programme and further enhances the outlook for regional moviemakers. The winners in this category will benefit from the full spectrum of our support, which goes well beyond publicity and prizes to include invaluable networking opportunities and year-round mentoring.”

For the first time this year, the long-running Emirates Competition (formerly Emirates Film Competition) will be presented under the banner of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Short fiction features and documentaries under 35 minutes from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as those with a strong focus on the region’s culture or history, will compete for the Black Pearl Awards with attractive cash prizes.

Of the 47 short movies in Competition, 20 are narrative films, eight documentaries, nine student narrative movies and 10 student documentaries. The selection features 15 world premieres and 14 of the participating helmers are women.

The Festival was established in 2007 to help create a lively cinema movement in the Gulf. The indications are that this Festival has grown more significant than the Dubai Film Festival, the other major cinema event in the region. What is noteworthy about Abu Dhabi – fast becoming the cultural capital of the Arab world — is that it provides a riveting platform where local movies can be watched along with those from the rest of the world. A lovely mix of cultures emerges from the art of cinema.

Gautaman Bhaskaran will be covering the Fourth Abu Dhabi Film Festival for The Seoul Times.

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Gautaman Bhaskaran is a veteran film critic and writer who has covered Cannes and other major international festivals, like Venice, Berlin, Montreal, Melbourne, and Fukuoka over the past two decades. He has been to Cannes alone for 15 years. He has worked in two of India’s leading English newspapers, The Hindu and The Statesman, and is now completing an authorized biography of India’s auteur-director, Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Penguin International will publish the book, whose research was funded by Ford Foundation.






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