The Abu Dhabi Film Festival may have concluded but for many first-time directors, the memories made over the past 10 days will last a lifetime.
Alongside the famous actors and veteran directors lining the red carpet, the festival was also home to minor festival debuts by student filmmakers courtesy of the Emirates Film Competition.
Abu Dhabi’s Reem Al Meqbali won the Student Short Narrative Competition for her film Oops.
The coming-of-age drama focuses on a group of sisters and their struggle to overcome family traditions.
Al Meqbali, who received a Dh20,000 cash prize, said she was blown away by the result.
“This is my first film, my first film-festival screening and even the first time I attended the festival itself,” she said.
“It is just incredible to be part of it all and I am so glad I stuck with the film and finished it.”
More than the prize, Al Meqbali explains the festival’s real value lies in the connections you make.
“You meet so many people and they are all creative and you exchange ideas. I have already got a few ideas that now I want to work on for my next film and I hope to show it again here.”
The Dubai filmmaker Deena Stevens described her first film-festival experience as “intense but awesome”.
The 22-year-old American University of Sharjah student entered three shorts as part of the Emirates Film Competition.
She temporarily relocated to Abu Dhabi for the duration of the festival, to network and catch as many films as she could.
“I probably saw about 20 films, including some shorts,” she said.
“It has been a hugely rewarding experience because I met some great filmmakers and asked them a lot of questions. Everyone has been very kind in giving me their time.”
Stevens also had a couple of star-struck moments courtesy of the festival’s special guests.
“I had moments where Forest Whitaker and David Hasselhoff were only a few metres away from me,” she recalled.
“I was thinking ‘Wow, they are real people’.”
The Abu Dhabi Film Festival director Ali Al Jabri praised this year’s debut filmmakers. “I am honestly very proud of them and for all the hard work they did,” he said.
“What they did was not easy and I am glad they came here and met other people. I hope, for them, that this is only the beginning of the road and they will come back and show their feature films at the festival.”
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