ABU DHABI // Festival programmers who spent the past year searching the world to find the best features for the fourth Abu Dhabi Film Festival revealed its 170 films yesterday, offering entries from some of the most celebrated names in cinema. "We work for 12 months," Peter Scarlet, the executive director of the festival, said. "Our work begins the day one festival is over. We travel around the world. We work like private investigators and detectives to find the best films we can."
The 44 narrative and documentary features to screen in competition during the October 14 to 23 event were whittled down from more than 2,000 submissions - double the amount received last year. "The narrative competition includes some of the most famous names in world cinema," Mr Scarlet said, mentioning the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas, whose biopic Carlos tells the story of the Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
"And then there's Fernando Trueba, Spain's only Academy Award winner, this year bringing a wonderful animated musical film called Chico & Rita." The Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic, Mr Scarlet said, could also inspire UAE directors. "Danis Tanovic made a film called No Man's Land in the early 1990s, which got the first prize at Venice, and suddenly Bosnian filmmaking became important," he said. "Soon, there's going to be a film from the UAE that appears on the world stage the way that Bosnia did."
The Bosnian director will be in the capital for a question-and-answer session as well as to present his latest film, Cirkus Columbia. Uma Thurman is expected to attend as well as Oscar winner Adrien Brody, who has a film in the festival. "He stars in a film called Wrecked, which we will be showing here," Mr Scarlet said. Other big names will be announced as they are confirmed, but Matt Damon, as previously rumoured, will not be one of them.
The final films represent 43 countries and nearly half come from the Middle East or Arab world. "There's a preponderance of films about the Middle East," Mr Scarlet said. The latest offering from the directing team of brothers Mohamed and Atia al Daradji, from Iraq, is one example. It will be screened during the festival but is incomplete and will not be in the running for a prize. Mohamed al Daradji's last documentary, Son of Babylon, was one of the most honoured documentaries during the 2009 festival circuit. The new film, In My Mother's Arms, tells the story of a shelter for orphans in Baghdad.
"They're rejected because the landlord decides the piece of property is worth more to just sell, and they get no help," Mr Scarlet said. Five of the films were co-produced with help from the Sanad grant, established as a fund for filmmakers from the Arab world. Among the grant winners are the Emirati director Saeed Salmeen, who will premiere his debut feature, Sun Dress.Eissa al Mazrouei, the director of special projects at the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, described Sanad as "a seed that will bring about a great harvest".
"The most important objective is to reach out to filmmakers in the Arab world and to help and encourage them to make new films," he said. Some big features will screen out of competition in the Showcase category, although they are eligible for the Abu Dhabi Film Audience Award, valued at US$30,000 (Dh110,200). Among them is Fair Game, starring Naomi Watts and Sean Penn, about the true story behind the exposure of Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. The film is directed by Doug Liman, who made 2002's The Bourne Identity, and produced by Abu Dhabi Media Co (ADMC) subsidiary Imagenation. ADMC owns The National.
Also in the showcase will be Let Me In, an English adaptation of the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In, directed by Matt Reeves, best known for the blockbuster Cloverfield. Opening this year's festival will be Secretariat, which stars Diane Lane and tells the story of Penny Chenery, who bred the eponymous 1973 US Triple Crown-winning race horse. The closing film will be the Hong Kong-China co-production Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame, a period mystery nominated for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
Tickets cost from Dh20 for a screening to Dh300 for a festival pass, excluding galas, up to Dh2,500 for an "elite" version. Online ticket sales begin on September 30 at abudhabifilmfestival.com