ABU DHABI // It was a film on the efforts of Sheikh Zayed to save the Arabian oryx from extinction that inspired Peter Scarlet to give the environment a prominent role in this year's MEIFF. What he saw last year in The Arabian Oryx - Freed Spirit of the Desert led the festival director to choose seven films under the banner of "What in the World Are We Doing to Our World?" The documentary, directed by Bader Ben Hirsi, examined the oryx breeding programme started by Sheikh Zayed, the late founder of the nation, during the 1960s on Sir Bani Yas Island after he noticed the animal's depleted numbers. Decades later, in 1992, Abu Dhabi formed the Co-ordination Committee for the Conservation of the Arabian Oryx.
"I came to this festival last year and saw a film about the oryx and through it I learned about Sheikh Zayed and what a visionary he was," Mr Scarlet said. "In the 1950s he may have been the only person thinking how we can preserve this planet. I want people who come to the festival to not forget that." Seven films shown over the past 10 days have tackled topics from endangered species to organic farming in countries from New Zealand to Bolivia.
They include Food Inc., an American offering giving a gritty insight into the food industry, and The Gift of Pachamama, an environmental fable for children set in the salt fields and villages of Bolivia. Adam Schmedes, the director of Chameleon Beach, said he was impressed that such a new festival was focusing on the environment and surprised at the depth of questions from the audience. "I didn't expect to find that here," he said. "We even had people who cried seeing the film."