Film News

Abu Dhabi film fest seeks to boost movie industry

ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Abu Dhabi launches its first film festival and fund this month in a bid to grow a movie industry in a Gulf Arab region often seen as a cultural desert and where films are often heavily censored.

Running from Oct 14-19, the Middle East International Film Festival aims to encourage home-grown talent and emerging film makers both with cash and the Black Pearl Awards trophies.

Running parallel to the festival is a financing effort that brings investors and production firms together with film makers to develop local talent and international co-productions.

“This is different in that it is not your normal glitz and glamour festival, to promote tourism, to show your country’s best movies,” said Executive Director Nashwa Al-Ruwaini.

“It has many variables and they all target starting an industry, a movie business ... out of Abu Dhabi.”

The festival is the latest in a series of projects Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, hopes will mark it out as the cultural heart of a region better know for its oil than its arts.

Unlike Egypt, which celebrates 100 years of Arab cinema this year, the UAE was a desert backwater before the 1970s oil boom.

The Gulf has produced few films of world repute and cinemas are banned in the conservative Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia, cutting film makers off from their biggest audience. Problems are compounded by the censorship of movies in the Gulf.


Organisers say festival films will not be cut.

“We are not cutting any movies,” said Ruwaini. “You can’t ask a film maker to your festival and say ... participate with your movie but five of your most important scenes are out.”

Several films dealing with sensitive issues will be shown. They include Egyptian documentary “Salata Baladi,” or Local Salad, which looks at the prickly issue of interreligious marriage and is partly shot in Israel.

Also showing is Brian De Palma’s “Redacted,” which recreates the real-life rape and murder of a teenage Iraqi girl by U.S. troops, and shocked audiences at the Venice festival last month.

The festival will show a range of Hollywood, Bollywood and Arab films, and the Black Pearl Awards will go to fiction, documentary and short films selected by a jury.

The festival will showcase Arab film in its Middle East Spotlight section, and includes a section dedicated to Arab female directors. Also on is a retrospective of Gulf films including the region’s first feature film, “The Cruel Sea” by Kuwaiti Director Khalid al-Siddiq, made in 1972.

To support homegrown talent, the Abu Dhabi Media Company will sponsor a $100,000 cash prize for Emirati film-makers and the festival will give the first ever screening for a UAE feature film; “Jumaa and the Sea” by Hany al-Shaibany.