ABU DHABI // And that’s a wrap … Hollywood celebrities and stars of the Arab world sparkled on the red carpet at Emirates Palace hotel for the closing night gala of the seventh Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
Baywatch star David Hasselhoff was one of the guests who drew screams from the crowd as he showed his support for the festival.
“I’m a huge film fan and it’s good to be back,” said the man known universally as The Hoff. It is his second ADFF, having visited four years ago.
“I can not believe how much it has grown. The quality of the films are amazing. I love the Middle East, it’s my third trip here.
“It’s such a honour everyone here knows Baywatch and Knight Rider, and I am amazed and humbled they know the Hasselhoff.”
Ali Al Jabri, festival director, said calibre of films on show this year surpassed previous festivals.
“It has been the biggest and best yet,” Mr Al Jabri said. “I have heard from many people that they are very happy with the programme of films we have had this year.
“We have had many, many films coming from the best festivals – Toronto, Venice, Cannes. We keep progressing year on year.”
This year the festival has screened 94 feature-lenth films and 72 short films from 51 countries, putting on show the best of international and Arab cinema.
Australian actress Jacki Weaver was president of the Narrative Competition jury that helped to decide which of 14 new international films deserved the US$100,000 (Dh367,290) Black Pearl Award.
A Touch of Sin, a martial-arts film directed by Jia Zhanke looking at four regions of China and four working-class protagonists, won the coveted prize.
Toronto International Film Festival artistic director Cameron Bailey led the judging for ADFF’s documentary competition section.
He was joined by Dutch screenwriter Leonard Retel Helmrich, director of A World not Ours, South African arts and film writer Peter Machen, UK filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel and the Algerian film critic, journalist and filmmaker Nabil Hadji.
The jury awarded the $80,000 (Dh293,840) award to These Birds Walk, directed by Omar Mullick.
The winner of the New Horizons Competition Black Pearl Award went to Still Life, directed by Uberto Pasolini.
Palestine actress and film director Hiam Abbass, known for her roles in Satin Rouge, The Syrian Bride, Paradise Now and Amreeka, was presented with a Black Pearl Career Achievement Award.
She joined Oscar-winning American actor Forest Whitaker who received the award this week.
The Child Protection Award category, created by the Ministry of Interior, was an inaugural addition to the festival and aimed to call attention to those films that raise awareness about the situation of abused or neglected children.
The best film award was also picked up by These Birds Walk, a film about wayward street children in Karachi and the Good Samaritans from the Edhi Foundation who look after them.
Of course, it wouldn’t be the ADFF without the glamour. Arab actresses Nesrine Tafesh and Madline Tabar posed for the cameras in a peach number and a gold and green gown.
Arwa Gouda wowed the crowd in a black floor-sweeping gown with sheer panelling as she posed with fellow Villa 69 actress Lebleba, who shone in a crystal-encrusted platinum gown.
Gouda spoke of how impressed she was with the festival.
“Its fantastic, very professional,” she said. “The competition has been very, very high this year. It keeps getting better and expanding. It should keep growing and growing.”
She said she was delighted with the feedback to her film.
“In the cinema when it was being screened the feedback was very wonderful,” Gouda said. “Because here the energy is very positive you hear a lot of critic and comments.”
Julie Bertuccelli, who directed School of Babel, said the film had a great reception.
“I’m very happy because it’s my first world screening, so it was amazing to be here,” Bertuccelli said. “It is a new festival, it is growing up. It’s a good opportunity to see other filmmakers.”
Saleh Bakri, who acted in Giraffada, said he was very happy with the feedback to his film.
“It is my first time at the festival,” Bakri said. “I am very happy to be here to meet Arab filmmakers I would not normally get the chance to see.”
The 10-day festival has seen acting royalty flock to the capital, including Whitaker, Life of Crime director Daniel Schechter, and the crossover star Irrfan Khan, who has taken Bollywood and Hollywood by storm, known for roles in The Amazing Spider-Man and Life of Pi.