This year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival started on October 11 with a screening of Arbitrage, a drama by Nicholas Jarecki featuring Richard Gere. Many Arab films also gained a lot of attention, such as Yousry Nasrallah’s Cannes-competing drama, After the Battle, which is set during the Egyptian revolution.
One of the festival’s goals is to support films from the region and help them gain international recognition. The annual Emirates Film Competition (EFC), which strongly supports local productions, is one way of doing that.
“The films in the Emirates Film Competition were particularly strong this year — and particularly diverse in terms of the stories that were told. Hana Makki's The Journey is an excellent example,” said Dale Hudson, a film professor at New York University Abu Dhabi, which closely collaborates with the festival in training young filmmakers who come to the region seeking to develop the industry here.
The festival also nurtures Arab filmmaking through its SANAD Fund.
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“Annemarie Jacir's extraordinary When I Saw You…was one of my favorites this year. This film would likely not have been produced without SANAD,” Hudson added.
Another much talked about Middle Eastern film was Hidden Beauties by Tunisian director Nouri Bouzid. The story is about two young women, Zainab and Aisha, who struggle in a society dominated by men, trying to go against the norms and change their lives. Everyone wants Zainab to wear veil but she refuses. On the other hand, Aisha who wears veil is forced by her boss to take it off for better business. The film is a timely metaphor for Tunisia’s post-revolution society and the crossroads the country finds itself at.
Arab women’s fight for change is also the main theme in Perfumes of Algiers by award-winning Algerian director Rachid Benhadj. The film’s protagonist, Karima (Monica Guerritore), is a successful photographer from Algiers who moved to Paris. She left her family and the strict society to arrive in a more liberal Europe. Twenty years later she is asked to come home to help her brother who is imprisoned, accused of terrorist activities. As Karima arrives in Algeria, her memories of hard life and difficulties come back to her.
The festival received a record number of submissions from Emirati filmmakers this year. The EFC award for best Emirati film went to Dreams in Their Eyes, directed by three young female filmmakers.
"It’s very exciting to see Emiratis telling their stories through film and to see such interesting work come out of a relatively small community,” said the festival’s Director Ali Al Jabri. “I hope other Emiratis will be as proud as I am. This should act as an inspiration to others considering filmmaking as a career.”