The Hollywood beauty Kirsten Dunst, the award-winning French actress Hafsia Herzi and the Tunisian screen legend Mouna Noureddine will bring some much-needed star power to the often-obscure world of short films at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival next month. Dunst will appear in a 10-minute movie, The Second Bakery Attack, directed by the Mexican filmmaker Carlos Cuarón (the brother of the film maker Alfonso Cuarón, whose works include Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También ). The film, which sees a newly married couple attempt to inject some energy into their relationship by recreating a crime, was based on a short story by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami.
Herzi, who won the best emerging actress award at the Venice film festival in 2008 for the Franco-Tunisian feature The Secret of the Grain, will screen her directorial debut, Rodba, during the competition. The film tells the story of an Italian man who struggles to ask his girlfriend's North African parents for her hand in marriage. As well as directing, Herzi will also star as the female lead. The celebrated Tunisian actress Noureddine, who has regularly appeared on film, television and the stage in the country for more than 50 years, will also star in a short film, Wave, directed by Mohamed Ben Attia. Noureddine plays an elderly woman who repeats the same story to her grandson throughout his youth, but when he becomes a teenager, the boy begins to question the tale.
After receiving 1,200 submissions from filmmakers around the world, 44 shorts from 25 countries have been chosen to screen at the event, which begins on October 14. The Short Film Competition jury will be headed by the Iranian artist and director Shirin Neshat, who won the Silver Lion for best director at the Venice film festival in 2009 for her feature Women Without Men. The full list of competing shorts - including 14 films from the Middle East and North Africa, 15 from female directors and seven world premieres - was revealed on Monday at the Abu Dhabi Theatre on the breakwater, which was also revealed as one of the festival's new screening venues.
Alice Kharoubi, the programmer of the Short Films Competition, said: "The films were chosen not for any specific themes but because we simply wanted to show the best short films available in the world. It is definitely unusual to have so many well-known people in shorts because it's not a commercial medium with a big audience - shorts usually just play at festivals." The festival's executive director, Peter Scarlett, as well as saying that many directors of short films struggle to find audiences for their work, said he believes shorts are often unfairly maligned as inferior to full-length features.
"Short films suffer from a kind of snobbery, maybe for the same reason that people think a marathon is tougher than a sprint," he said. The competition will also include the UAE short American Arab, by the director Ahmed al Mutawa. The film sees the Arab American James Asher driving through the US attempting to confront racial stereotyping. "His journey leads him from Palestine, Arkansas to Seattle, interviewing professors, politicians, policemen, celebrities, students, farmers and anyone who will stop and talk for a while,. until a fresh and intriguing portrait of America is uncovered," reads the synopsis.
Bahrain will also be represented in the competition, with One More Day, directed by Chaker Ben Yahmed. The film looks at the life of a couple as seen through their bathroom mirror, revealing their daily routine. There will be five short films from Iran screening in the competition - more than any other country. They are the social-realist tale Pool Party, about a rebellious servant; Ask the Wind, about a female art student who discovers the dead body of a young boy; Hunt, an aptly named film about a hunter; A Young Man and the Cunning Tailor, based on a 13th-century Persian tale; and Cinema Azadi, about the restoration of a giant theatre complex in Tehran.
At the unveiling of the short films line-up, clips were screened from a number of the competitors, including The Road Home from the UK; Muscles from Australia; Made in China from Bulgaria; and Herzi's film, Robda. The Short Film Competition jury will award seven of the festival's Black Pearl awards during the event, accompanied by cash prizes of $5,000 (Dh18,366) to $25,000. The categories are Best Narrative Short, Best Documentary Short, Best Short from the Arab World, Best Animated Short, as well as first, second and third prizes for the best student shorts.
The films that will be included in this year's region-wide Emirates Competition, aimed at helping emerging filmmakers, were also announced at the event. A total of 47 films from the UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Oman were selected.