ABU DHABI // A gala event last night raised the curtain on 10 days of cinema and 129 films showing in the Middle East International Film Festival.
The Hollywood actresses Demi Moore and Hilary Swank, a two-time Oscar winner, and Freida Pinto, the star of last year's hit and Oscar favourite Slumdog Millionaire, graced the red carpet at the Emirates Palace hotel. The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Black Pearl Award to the actress Vanessa Redgrave, whose husband Franco Nero accepted on her behalf. Swank, who won Academy Awards for her performances in the films Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby but does not have a film in show this year, paid tribute to the British actress, calling her one of the "most talented actors living".
Moore, the star of such films as Ghost, GI Jane and Indecent Proposal, said she was drawn to Abu Dhabi for the festival out of interest in the region. As with Swank this year and Meg Ryan last year, she is a guest of the festival and does not have a specific film to promote. "We haven't had an opportunity to spend any time in the Middle East," she said. "Part of what was really exciting about the invitation was really getting an opportunity to see a little bit more of this side of the world, just kind of be educated myself within the culture.
"And though this is clearly far more progressive than some Middle Eastern countries, it's really foreign to me. "So it's been great." Among the most hotly anticipated films showing at the festival this year are the Matt Damon comedy The Informant! and the Michael Moore documentary Capitalism: A Love Story. Around half the films to be screened throughout the city are from the Middle East, with a special focus on modern Turkish cinema.
Peter Scarlet, the festival's new executive director, had high hopes for the 10 days of cinema. "In the troubled times we live in on this planet," he said, "cinema is our last hope to understand what we have in common as human beings." firstname.lastname@example.org