ABU DHABI // Film stars from both sides of the Atlantic took to the Emirates Palace red carpet last night for the gala opening of the fourth annual Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
The procession included Arab cinema’s golden couple, Ahmed Helmi and Mona Zaki, the husband and wife from Egypt who were greeted by cheers and screams from the crowd of onlookers who gathered to catch a glimpse of the array of celebrities. They included Clive Owen, the dashing British actor who in 2005 won a Golden Globe and Bafta Award for his appearance in the drama Closer.
“It is my second time in the UAE,” he said. “I liked it so much I came back.”
The star said the film festival was one of the most exciting on the annual circuit because it grows so much every year. Owen, who said he will see anew film released early next year, also has been preparing to play the hard-living American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway in an HBO movie set to begin filming in San Francisco next year.
“I am eating and drinking a lot for it,” he said.
Owen was joined in the limelight by Adrien Brody, the American actor and youngest to win an Academy Award. Brody, here to support tonight’s screening of the survival thriller Wrecked, called the city “beautiful”.
Sulaf Fawakherji, a prominent Syrian actress, said she came to the festival to represent Arab television and cinema.
“Although this is a recent festival,” she said, “it has improved very much and it shows that the people of this region place much importance on film.”
Somaya el Khashab, an Egyptian actress who starred in a controversial soap opera about a man who had four wives, said: “This festival is important because it gives me a chance to see what people in different countries want from film and TV. Everyone brings something different.”
Ali Mostafa, director of the recent UAE cinema darling City of Life, also made an appearance and used it to champion the future of Emirati filmmaking.
“Although it is still only new, I am confident it will reach high places,” he said.
After walking the red carpet, the stars entered the auditorium to first view the short film The Accordion, from the Iranian director Jafa Panahi. Panahi was not able to attend the screening, after being jailed earlier this year for making a film his government opposed.
Then it was time for the Middle East premiere of Secretariat, Randall Wallace’s new film about a horse who won the US Triple Crown in 1973. Starring John Malkovich and Diane Lane, the film was the first of 172 from 43 countries to be shown over the 10 days of the festival. Last night also marked the first time it had been screened outside of the US.
Before the opening credits, Mohammed Khalaf al Mazrouei, the director general of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, reiterated Abu Dhabi’s ongoing efforts to promote dialogue between different cultures.
“Festivals such as the Abu Dhabi Film Festival are annual occasions, which enable us to celebrate the amazing art of cinema,” he said. “At these festivals, we evaluate our achievements and they also give us an opportunity to see what others, in the worldwide film production centers, have been doing.”
He added that the festival was a chance for the new generation of filmmakers from the UAE and the wider Gulf region to showcase their work.
“They are keen to see their dreams come true through cinema production, and realise their expectations,” he said.
He added this was the only festival in the region where works by Arab filmmakers were represented in competition alongside those by major talents of world cinema.
The festival will continue until next Saturday, October 23. To find out more about visit www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae.
* The National
For more stories from the festival, visit our Abu Dhabi Film Festival page here.
View trailers for the films to be screened during the event here.