ABU DHABI // The hospitality tent at this year's Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) is proving hugely popular. It is a hive of activity, with more than 600 guests a day enjoying a packed itinerary ranging from masterclasses and guest appearances by filmmakers and actors, to children's shows and late-night live music from local performers.
Billed by the organisers as "the crossroads of the festival", the 625-square metre marquee, pitched on the main terrace behind the Emirates Palace hotel, made its debut at this year's event. In the first five days after it opened on October 8, it was visited by 3,229 people, including 474 children. During the day, the hospitality tent plays host to interactive events such as film make-up demonstrations. A renowned New Zealand special effects artist, Joe Dunckley, and the make-up team Weta, who lent their expertise to visually stunning films including The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and District 9, held three full-day workshops at the tent.
"The whole point of us being here is to show local people the steps it takes to be part of this aspect of the industry," Mr Dunckley said. "Perhaps some people feel it is out of their reach but it really isn't. "It's just about having the confidence to throw yourself in. If we can manage to inspire one person in this workshop then that person can go on and inspire others." As well as workshops there are question-and-answer sessions with actors and filmmakers and, for the children, storytelling and magic shows.
The evenings are dedicated to live concerts by local musicians, such as Kamal Musallam and Jonas Desai, who entertain audiences enjoying the relaxed, candlelit atmosphere. As well as attracting the public, many performances also prove popular with leading lights from the world of cinema. "On Monday night, for example, we had stars from Heliopolis here after the screening," said Jane Ali-Knight, the publicity co-ordinator for MEIFF, referring to the new film from the Egyptian director Ahmed Abdalla featuring his countrymen Khaled Abol Naga and the rock musician Hany Adel.
"The tent was packed with people wanting to talk to the stars and have their photos taken with them." The tent, which hosts its final events tomorrow, gives the festival a different dimension and holds "fringe" activities that are as important as the film screenings, said Mrs Ali-Knight. "Without a place for people to gather, coming to the festival is not much different from going to the cinema. Now there is a place to relax and congregate and really feel like you are part of the festival."