A chimp raised in a human family, a lethal and highly contagious virus, enormous Scandinavian trolls, Tess of the d’Urbervilles set in India, a lost cave of prehistoric artwork (in 3D!) and a whole lot of horses. These are just some of the stories that should be captivating audiences at this year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which kicks off on October 13 for 10 days of cinematic celebration.
The film lineup – announced at a press conference yesterday – features 80 titles from across the world, with a hearty mix of A-list Hollywood talent, established international directors, emerging stars, regional offerings and even some classics from cinema’s days of old. And, aside from a section looking at Swedish cinema and a celebration of the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz, the selection process was made with one major factor in mind.
“Our theme is always quality,” says festival executive director Peter Scarlet from his office in the Al Raha Beach Theatre, a room lined with classic film posters from decades of world cinema. “We wound up having four movies about horses, a movie called A Narrow Place and a movie called The Tiniest Place. It just happens that way.”
One of the bigger titles is The Ides of March, the political thriller that arrives in Abu Dhabi straight off the plane from the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival. Given that George Clooney and Ryan Gosling have starring roles, it’s expected to draw a sizeable – if perhaps gender-biased – crowd.
A Dangerous Method, David Cronenberg’s take on the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung featuring Keira Knightley and Michael Fassbender, is another to head to Abu Dhabi from its recent screening in Toronto and is likely to cause something of a buzz.
Then there’s Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion in which a stellar ensemble, including Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Marion Cotillard, attempts to battle a frighteningly fast-paced pandemic.
“We should probably install some wet wipes dispensers for when people leave,” says Scarlet.
For something less contagious but still troubling, there’s the screening of We Need to Talk About Kevin, the adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s award-winning novel about a fictitious high school massacre, starring Tilda Swinton.
But while the big A-list names are certainly good for attracting interest, the real focus of a film festival should always be giving a platform to the films the audience might not otherwise get to see.
“I always advise people to look for the stuff you’ve heard of – such as the new Scorsese or Cronenberg – and then, for every one of those jump into the pool, leap into the void and pick something you don’t know anything about,” advises Scarlet.
And for those looking to take this vault into the unknown, there are plenty of interesting titles to choose from. The acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, whose About Elly delighted two years ago, returns to the UAE with his latest film, A Separation. Another noted Iranian storyteller, Marjane Satrapi, follows up her celebrated animation Persepolis with Chicken with Plums, a tale of 1950s Tehran featuring the voices of Isabella Rossellini and Golshifteh Farahani.
Trishna, from British director Michael Winterbottom, sees Thomas Hardy’s classic Tess of the d’Urbervilles transported to modern-day Rajasthan, with Freida Pinto and Riz Ahmed starring. A big event for the UAE will be the world premiere of Sea Shadow, the coming-of-age film from Emirati director Nawaf Al-Janahi, the first Emirati project from Imagenation, part of Abu Dhabi Media, which owns The National.
On the documentary side of things, there’s a broad spectrum of quality to be enjoyed. Project Nim, the second from Man on Wire director James Marsh, looks at the scientific efforts to prove chimpanzees have the skills for language acquisition, which involved raising a baby chimpanzee like a human child. Slightly more monstrous is the mockumentary Troll Hunter, in which a group of Norwegians head into the forest in search of gigantic Nordic beasts. Cave of Forgotten Dreams – another masterpiece from the near untouchable Werner Herzog – brings to life with the help of 3D the ancient paintings in France’s Chauvet cave.
As many might expect, the Arab Spring makes an appearance in the documentary section. Tahrir 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Politician breaks down the Egyptian revolution into the Tahrir protests (the good), the police retaliation (the bad) and Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year grip on power (the politician). Then there’s 18 Days, a series of shorts from Egyptian directors, each attempting to put his or her own viewpoint on the events earlier in the year. Ahmad Abdalla’s entry alone is worth the price of admission.
While the Arab Spring is still fighting for headline space, something altogether historic lands with the screening of George Méliès’s 1902 classic A Trip to the Moon. The 16-minute masterpiece – perhaps the first science-fiction ever made – is backed by an original soundtrack by French house duo Air. Even Ingmar Bergman, who has three films showing as part of the festival’s Swedish spotlight, seems positively modern by comparison.
For those who are already eyeing up tickets, it’s worth noting that 2011 sees a change of venue for the festival. Previously headquartered at the Emirates Palace, this time around, much of the activity – including the red carpet screenings and opportunities to scream at the attending celebrities (not yet announced) – will be focused around the 500-seat Abu Dhabi Theatre near the Marina Mall.
Another welcome first for the festival is that outdoor screenings will take place each night at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, with space for 1,200 people.
“The setting is magnificent,” says Scarlet. “You’ll have the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque out of the corner of your eye.”
We’ll see you there.
• Tickets for the majority of the films to be screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival go on sale September 25. Visit www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae for more information.
For video relating to ADFF, visit The National's multimedia pages.
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