We’ve had visits from The Last King of Scotland and a Baywatch hunk, while an Oscar winner had to be rushed into emergency dental surgery. And after all the drama and glitz, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival is over for another year.
The 10 days were packed with more than 200 screenings of 92 feature films from 41 countries, including 35 films produced in the UAE.
A host of stars, including the American actors Forest Whitaker and David Hasselhoff, walked the red carpet, while the Silver Linings Playbook star Jacki Weaver’s stint as a juror was interrupted by a bout of painful toothache.
Now, the curtains have closed and the last of the ticket stubs and spilt popcorn have been swept off the cinema floors. All that remains are memories of great esoteric films from around the world and to look forward to its return next year.
Besides the movies it hosted, Emirates Palace was also the festival’s hub, where journalists and filmmakers mingled, quaffing vast quantities of coffee.
Those hoping to launch a career in the movies got to hear wise words from industry folk in the ADFF seminar series. These included the Life of Crime director Daniel Schechter and the film producer Ashok Amritraj, the Short Term 12 director Destin Cretton and the Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass.
“We are all exhausted after a very busy few weeks,” says Teresa Cavina, the festival’s director of programming, after the closing ceremony on Thursday. “But we’re also extremely proud at what we have offered this year.”
She says she feels that ADFF was maturing year on year, not just in its organisation but also in the attitudes of the audiences.
“We are seven years old now and it is just feeling like a real festival now,” she explains. “Already it is organised like a proper festival, but now the audience is acting like a real festival audience. They ask good questions after the films and obviously really appreciate good cinema.”
The film that walked away with the top Narrative Competition Black Pearl Award and a US$100,000 (Dh367,300) prize was A Touch of Sin, a Chinese film by Jia Zhangke. The movie offers a portrait of the greed and violence that is rampant in modern China.
Other big winners were Uberto Pasolini, who scooped the New Horizons Competition Black Pearl Award for new directors with Still Life, a poignant drama about a funeral officer whose job is to track down relatives of people who have died alone.
The Documentary Competition prize went to These Birds Walk by the directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq, who told the story of runaway children on the streets of Karachi, Pakistan.
“All the winners were fantastically deserving of the prize,” says Cavina. “But I am really happy with the juries this year.”
She says Jacki Weaver had been exemplary as president of the Narrative Competition Jury. “She is very intelligent and funny and it was a delight to have her on the jury. She seemed to form a real bond with Hiam Abbass and [the Tunisian producer] Dora Bouchoucha. Every time I would sit with them, it was like being on a sitcom. There was such an energy going on between those three women.”
Weaver says she thoroughly enjoyed her deliberating duties, despite needing some emergency dental surgery.
“I haven’t seen much of Abu Dhabi because I’ve had a terrible toothache and haven’t really left the hotel,” says Weaver. “But I went to see an excellent dental surgeon yesterday and I’m feeling better today. I will take away some great memories of moviegoing and meeting great people. The festival has some great things going for it.”
Another change in the festival this year was the introduction of more Emirati films than in previous years. Cavina says this was welcomed.
“Since Ali Al Jabri became the director of the festival, we have seen more Emiratis involved and this is reflected in the audience,” she says. “I have never seen so many Emirati men and women at the screenings and interacting with the filmmakers. This was a beautiful surprise.”
Cavina says attendance went up across the board this year.
“I don’t have the exact figures for ticket sales as yet, but I believe the average attendance for screening was higher than previous years.
“I think this is because we’ve strived to be more consistent with the quality of films we’ve shown.”
Filmmakers who attended from all over the world were impressed by what they had seen.
As well as earning an honourable mention for her documentary about the dangers of addiction to the internet, the British director Beeban Kidron says there had been other rewards in visiting the UAE.
“Festivals are great because you get to meet filmmakers from all over the world. For example, I have found out this week that my film To Wong Foo, [Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar] was an enormous smash in the Philippines,” she exclaims. “These filmmakers from the Philippines, when they discovered I was here, came to pay court to the maker of Too Wong Fu.
“This is the kind of thing that happens at film festivals. I’ve had some delightful encounters with filmmakers here who are half my age and are embarking on the journey I’ve been on.”
Meanwhile, the Hide Your Smiling Faces director Daniel Carbone returned to Abu Dhabi, where he used to teach at the city’s New York University.
He says: “I’ve been supportive of the festival. When I was working here, I would often take my students to come and see the screenings and it seems to be going well.
“You know it’s become a best-of of the previous festivals of the year. So you seem to have a really high standard of movies.”
Now that’s it all over, Cavina says that after a few days’ rest they will start working on next year’s event.
“Inshallah, we shall be back in 2014. This festival is so important for Abu Dhabi. It helps us understand that it doesn’t matter what country you are from, we are all human beings with a culture and with a pride because of our culture.”
See moments and scenes captured at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival at thenational.ae/adff