The wait for film fans in need of stars’ faces to search for on the Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s red carpets is over, as the list of attendees has finally been announced.
Among the big names who should be gracing the capital over the next 10 days are Evan Rachel Wood, the American actress who stars in George Clooney’s political thriller The Ides of March (and no, sorry ladies, Clooney isn’t coming), and Lily Cole, the British model and actress featuring in The Moth Diaries. Then there’s Topher Grace, the US actor better known as a character in That 70’s Show, who stars alongside Richard Gere in The Double, which is getting its world premiere (and no, sorry ladies, Richard isn’t coming, either).
This year, there seems to be a dominant presence from those behind, rather than in front of, the cameras. The US director Todd Solondz, known for his somewhat dark and socially conscious satirical films, will walk the red carpet in the UAE for the first time with Dark Horse, while the former Monty Python legend Terry Gilliam, along with his film producer daughter Amy, will attend the screening of his short The Wholly Family. For the screening of his contemporary, India-set Trishna, an adaption of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the British director Michael Winterbottom will be in town.
There’s set to be a strong regional attendance, including the acclaimed Iranian director Ashgar Farhadi, who returns to Abu Dhabi with his latest feature A Separation, and his fellow compatriot Marjane Satrapi for Chicken With Plums, based on her follow-up to Persepolis.
As expected, there’s a large contingent from Egypt, with the comedy actor Ahmed Helmy, the actress Yousra, the talk-show host Hala Serhan and the young actor Khaled Abo Al Naga all set to appear. The Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji, named by Variety as Middle East Filmmaker of the Year in 2010 for his film Son of Babylon, which impressed audiences at 2009’s festival, is coming back, this time along with his brother Atia for the documentary In My Mother’s Arms.
And, of course, there should be a great local turnout for the world premiere of the UAE’s own Sea Shadow, with a red-carpet event planned for Wednesday at the Abu Dhabi Theatre featuring the Emirati director Nawaf Al Jahani and the two young actors Neven Madi and Omar Al Mulla.
This year also marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Naguib Mahfouz, the Egyptian author with no less than 30 novels and more than 100 short stories to his name. He was both the first Arab author to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature (in 1988) as well as the best Arab author to devote much of his energies to movies. To that end, the festival will honour his legacy by screening eight major films either drawn from his work or based on his original screenplays.
Away from the major screenings, there are still plenty of opportunities to see many of the names attending through the schedule of workshops and discussions being held throughout the festival at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr.
The Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako will be presenting a master class on Saturday, providing a rare insight into the process he used to create films, including the Cannes Un Certain Regard-winning Waiting for Happiness and the acclaimed Bamako. The same day, the French electronic duo Air will be giving a talk on their score for the remastered edition of Georges Méliès 1902 classic A Trip To The Moon, which is also showing at the festival.
Should anyone fancy getting inside the mind of Todd Solondz (which could be a niche crowd given the storylines of Happiness or Palindromes), the director will also be giving a master class on Monday (11am-12.30pm) at the Fairmont.
What looks to be one of the most interesting panel groups will be on Monday afternoon: “The Arab Spring and its effects on Filmmaking”. Two films that rose from the Egyptian revolution, 18 Days and Tahrir: The Good, the Bad and the Politician, are being screened at the festival and the subject looks likely to play a prominent role in regional cinematography in the near future.
The official line-up of guests may have now been revealed, but as ever at such festivals, there are always wild rumours running around of someone “huge” set to appear unexpectedly from a first-class cabin at Abu Dhabi International Airport.
Making any form of celebrity prediction is rather difficult, given that often such “massive names” aren’t even connected to a film being played. All we can say is that A-list bird spotters should remain vigilant at all times and stay on the lookout for oversized sunglasses, a gaggle of minders and, if they’ve been spotted, a frantic barrage of pointing fingers and flash-photography.
If you hear a cacophony of high-pitched shrieks, perhaps last year’s guests Clive Owen and Jonathan Rhys Meyers have returned.
For more information and a full list of events, visit www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae