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.
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.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is a film critic and author who will be covering the Fourth Abu Dhabi Film Festival for Hindustan Times)