How it started
Long before the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, before even the Dubai International Film Festival, there was the Emirates Film Competition (EFC). Established in 2001 (yes, when much was still sand), this competition was introduced to support a fledgling film industry and its growing number of participants, giving a platform for emerging directors to showcase their short films. Fast forward 11 years, and the EFC is now an integral part of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and considered by many to be the event that kick-started everything we see today.
It's fair to say almost all of the UAE's film talent have had some involvement in the competition. Nawaf Al Janahi, whose feature Sea Shadow premiered at last year's Abu Dhabi Film Festival, screened his first directorial short, Obsession, there in 2002. Ali F Mostafa, the man behind 2009's City of Life, picked up Best Emirates Film for Under the Sun in 2006.
What to watch out for
There are 43 films competing across four different categories this year. For something from one of the UAE's most celebrated and award-winning directors, try Salma's Dinner by Nujoom Al Ghanem. If horror's your thing, The Orphanage by Mohammed Al Otaiba could well make your hair stand on end, if the trailer is anything to go by.
Another creepy addition is Children, an animated film by Mohammad Fikree. "It's a dark fairy tale about a mother and her children and they're desperate to escape from a hungry, scary beast," says Fikree, who won an award at the competition last year for the animated film Mad Camel.
Paradise Falls, a mockumentary by the Dubai-based Lebanese director Nizar Sfair, was a multi-award winner at last year's 48 Hour Film Project in Dubai and is well worth a watch. "It's about a novelist who doesn't want to leave his compound that is being demolished before he finishes his second novel, which he's spent about 10 years trying to write," says Sfair.
In the documentary arena, Cats from Marwan Al Hammadi makes for interesting viewing. It looks at the growing trend of exotic pet ownership across the UAE.
Are they all made in the UAE?
Almost, but not quite. Three Dolls and A Paper Plane and One Man's Tricycle are from Saudi Arabia, Water Genie is from Bahrain and Dreams in Their Eyes is a co-production between the UAE and Lebanon.
How to watch them
As the films are all shorts, they're usually grouped together depending on the category: short narrative, student short narrative, short documentary and student short documentary. They're scattered throughout the festival schedule, so it's worth checking online at www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae for viewing times and locations.
Heading up the competition
There's been some reshuffling this year, with the former director of the Emirates Film Competition, Ali Al Jabri, now looking after the entire Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
Into his shoes steps Saleh Karama, a film director, scriptwriter and playwright with several years experience. In 2003, Karama's own short, What's Left, even won at the competition and he's since then picked up several awards across the region for his film and theatre work.