At first it seemed like the giant outdoor screen at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr would be an exclusive affair: reserved solely for those who had sauntered down the film festival’s red carpet or had begged, borrowed or otherwise acquired a golden ticket. This was certainly the case on the first night, as the al fresco setting hosted the event’s curtain-raising celebration, screening the opening film, Monsieur Lazhar, to the VIPs in attendance while mere mortals were left to gape open-mouthed through the glass walls in the hotel lobby.
However, after the red carpet had been rolled up and taken to the Abu Dhabi Theatre for the festival’s other gala films, the sublime creekside location became a more egalitarian affair, with the general public invited to experience the nightly 7.30pm screenings that crossed a broad range of geographies and genres. And with the domes and minarets of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque providing a stunning backdrop and summer’s inhospitable temperatures slowly becoming a distant memory, this calm spot in front of a 4,000 square foot screen (the world’s largest, of course) proved a popular destination.
The first public screening – Stockholm East – was a curious choice to kick things off, an exquisitely crafted but somewhat dark tale in which a mother is drawn into a relationship with the man responsible for her child’s death. But the lack of robots, lasers and Jennifer Aniston looking for love didn’t deter the punters, and there was a decent-sized turnout for the 1,200 capacity venue. While just a few weeks ago it would have been unthinkable, scarves and shawls were brought out as some audience members came to terms with the slightly autumnal breeze that rolled across from the creek.
For the Monday evening screening of the espionage thriller The Double, which had received its world premiere in the Abu Dhabi Theatre just two nights earlier, there were queues snaking along the hotel corridors. The film was partly funded by Abu Dhabi’s own Image Nation, but perhaps there was another decisive fact in drawing the numbers: the star of the film Topher Grace had just announced that he was extending his stay in the UAE and might have well been watching from one of the hotel windows, or perhaps even sitting in the crowd.
Adding a bit of extra colour to the event, representatives from the films – be they directors or actors – would be introduced on stage before each screening to say a few words –usually “thank you for coming” and “enjoy the film”. Generally speaking, the crowd would clap in polite acknowledgement. But when Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni, the director of the Indian film The Temple, came to the stage on Wednesday night, he was greeted with cheers and even whistles.
By night, the screen, all lit up, was by far the dominant illuminated presence against the dark night sky – even the Fairmont’s snazzy outdoor lights were turned off – but by day it was a rather different affair, lying face down, much like a skateboarding ramp. About half an hour before each screening, the motors would come on and to an amusing medley of music – which one evening included the theme from Zorba the Greek and Chopsticks – the giant screen would move into an upright position. And as the sunset drifted into darkness, a sea of volunteers armed with torches would emerge to ensure nobody fell down the stairs.
The final film of the festival outdoor came on Thursday night, with Terry Gilliam intrdocing his short The Wholly Family, which was shown before the Italian film Habemus Papam (Latin for “We have a Pope”, the announcement at the Vatican on the election of a new pope).
For people who missed the outdoor cinema experience, or perhaps enjoyed it so much they might want to return, the screen’s reversion to its horizontal resting position on Thursday night was not its final action in Abu Dhabi. The festival may have packed its bags, but the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr has decided to keep things going for another week with the Swiss Open Air Events programme of films on the outdoor screen for the general public – details in the panel on the right.
The Swiss Open Air programme at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr this week is:
Tuesday The Ides of March
George Clooney wrote the screenplay for this political thriller, in which he also directs and stars, about a US presidential candidate embroiled in a dirty tricks campaign. Also stars Ryan Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Evan Rachel Wood. 9pm
This remake of the 1984 toe-tapping classic sees Kenny Wormald squeeze into Kevin Bacon’s dancing shoes as the young man who just wants to boogie in a town where such frivolous behaviour has been banned. 9pm
Thursday In Time
Justin Timberlake heads an all-star cast in this sci-fi tale set in a “retro-future” (lava lamps, perhaps?) where the ageing gene has been switched off and only the rich can live for ever. 9pm
Friday Dolphin Tale
“Inspired by the amazing true story of Winter”, a real-life bottlenose dolphin which was fitted with a prosthetic tail, this family-friendly drama stars Harry Connick Jr, Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman. 8.30pm
Do you like baseball? Do you like biographical dramas? Actually, even if you don’t, you may still like this real-life story about Oaklands athletics coach Billy Beane, starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. 9pm
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