It was a big night for Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker, who stole the show at the opening night of the seventh Abu Dhabi Film Festival last night.
The US actor, director and producer was beaming as he walked the red carpet before heading inside to collect a Black Pearl Career Achievement Award from festival director Ali Al Jabri.
“I am honoured to be here,” said Whitaker, 52. “It really is a pleasure. It’s a reference to sacrifice, to hard work, to great film.”
The star of films including The Last King of Scotland, Vantage Point and most recently, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, posed for photographers and chatted happily.
Whitaker received a standing ovation from the audience at the Emirates Palace auditorium as he made his way to the stage.
After a heart-felt speech thanking festival organisers, guests and “the people of Abu Dhabi”, the Bafta-winning actor impressed and delighted by singing a sura from the holy Quran.
Fans took to Twitter tweeting “So great having Forest Whitaker with us at ADFF ‘13”, to which he replied: “The honour is mine”.
“It’s a great place bringing great films,” Whitaker said earlier in the evening. “The fact that they are touching people all over the world is wonderful.
“I consider myself a citizen of the world so it’s good to be some place new for an event like this.”
This is his second trip to the Middle East, having been in Oman a few years ago.
“It’s great to know my work is being appreciated but it’s not something I work for,” he said when asked about the Oscar buzz for his latest role. “I don’t think that way.”
Mr Al Jabri said he enjoyed having 12 months to prepare this year’s festival. Last year, he took the reins only two months before it took place.
“I have had more time to really understand things and that has made a big difference to me,” Mr Al Jabri said. “Unlike other festivals, Toronto, Cannes, Berlin, where the films make it to the screen after the event, art films cannot be seen in the UAE after ADFF.
“That is why I would encourage people to come to see art films while they can. It’s why the festival should not be missed.”
The glittering festival attracted filmmakers, actors, actresses, directors and producers from all over the world and the Arab region.
The opening night film was Life of Crime, starring Jennifer Aniston and Marke Boone Jr.
Boone and the film’s director, Daniel Schechter, arrived fashionably late moments before proceedings began.
Palestinian actress and producer Hiam Abbass, also set to receive a Black Pearl Career Achievement Award for her contribution to cinema, was dressed in black with silver diamond earrings for her first trip to Abu Dhabi.
Mervat Amin led the Arab stars down the carpet, including Hend Sabri, Ahmad Ezz, Basel Khayat, Eyad Nassar, Kinda Aloush, Abed Fahd, Manal Khader and Nesrine Tafesh.
Egyptian stars Lebleba and Khaled Abol Naga, whose latest film Villa 69 will have its world premiere screening at ADFF this week, were popular among the crowds.
Stars from the Arabian Gulf region included Mohammed Al Mansour, Dawood Hussain, Huda Al Khatib, Khaled Ameen, Ahmed Iraj, Samera Ahmad, Ahmad Al Jasmi and Maisa Al Maghribi.
Emirati film director Ali Mostafa, best known for his feature-length film City of Life, walked the carpet with Arbitrage producer Mohamed Al Turki, who is working on Mostafa’s next offering From A to B.
Head of the narrative jury and star of recent box office hit Silver Linings Playbook, Jacki Weaver, was in high spirits and a daring red dress.
“It’s my very favourite thing, to watch movies,” Weaver said. “So the last few days have just been wonderful for me.”
The Australian actress said she was happy Silver Linings Playbook made it to the big screen. “Some beautiful movies just don’t make it,” she said. “This one captured everyone’s imagination. I love movies that make us laugh and cry because that’s what we do in life. Movies that are beautifully executed are always the best.”
This week Merzak Allouache, at ADFF with the film The Rooftops, will receive the Variety Award for Middle East Filmmaker of the Year.
Leading lights of Indian cinema will also attend including Bollywood and Hollywood cross-over star Irrfan Khan with his new film QISSA, along with the film’s director Anup Singh.
Director Richie Mehta brings Siddarth and director Aparna Sen presents The Jewellery Box.
ADFF runs until November 2. For more information visit www.abudhabifilmfestival.ae.