x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

ADFF VIP gift lounge tests even a director's patience

Not even working in Hollywood prepares you for an evening with an enthusiastic shopper, says Chris Brandt.

Shopping is a bore for most men, even when it comes to scoring free goods from the film festival's VIP lounge. Leaning against the wall outside this weekend was a weary Michael Brandt, director of the thriller The Double, starring Richard Gere and Topher Grace, which screened on Saturday night at the Abu Dhabi Theatre.

Sporting his bag of freebies, which included a bag designed out of a Palestinian keffiyah by the Palestyle fashion brand, Brandt said no amount of patience learnt from working with Hollywood stars could prepare someone to cope with a wife's shopping spree.

"She loves her shopping, so I am going to just have to wait," he said. "Well, at least she is very happy."

But even the mild Brandt has his limits. Soon fed up, he called out that he was returning to his room and strode towards the lifts.

Other celebrities, however, were not as immune to the lure of the lounge's freebies. The young Irish actress Sarah Bolger, who stars in The Moth Diaries, was in there on Saturday with her mother, and called it "Aladdin's cave". She picked out a pair of Sultan Darmaki's shoes to wear on the red carpet, and took home a BlackBerry 9900. She left for LA yesterday to begin shooting her next film, and lounge staff were sad to see her go; they described her as a "lovely girl" who was not yet "affected by Hollywood".

Evan Rachel Wood, in town to support The Ides of March, also found Darmaki's stilettos irresistible: she chose two pairs and spent 20 minutes chatting to the shoe designer. Her Palestyle clutch was a favourite, and she chose to wear her Bil Arabi bracelet then and there. As for the week-long holiday at a Fairmont location offered to each of the stars, Wood chose Cairo with no hesitation: "Definitely Cairo," she proclaimed.

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The Iranian director Asghar Farhadi will receive this year's Variety Middle East Filmmaker of the Year award at a special reception this week honouring its five Arab producers-to-watch, a group Variety Arabia chose in partnership with the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Farhadi, whose breakout film About Elly had its Middle East premiere at the festival in 2009, is the fourth filmmaker to receive the award. His latest film, A Separation, is Iran's official entry for the 2012 Foreign Language Academy Award and is being screened as part of the festival's narrative competition line-up.

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The director Gurvinder Singh, whose Punjabi film Alms of a Blind Horse (Anhey Ghorhey da Daan) has had its international premiere at the festival, took a few minutes to unload in the press buffet area over the weekend. He berated the ignorance of independent cinema in India, claiming that Bollywood and commercialism win out every time with both the people and the press.

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There were lots of questions for the New York-based director Sam Neave on Saturday night during the world premiere screening of his film Almost in Love at Marina Mall's Vox Cinemas. The film was shot on one camera in two, uninterrupted 40-minute takes - one at sunset on Staten Island, the other a couple of months later at sunrise in the Hamptons - on a budget that came in under US$100,000 (Dh367,000) thanks to favours, arrangements and deals. For example, the house used for the second scene was owned by the mother of one of the women featured in it.

"I kept writing parts," said Neave. "That's another way I got funding." Scoring the Scottish actor Alan Cumming, who stars in The Good Wife, which shows in the UAE on MBC 4, helped. Cumming had appeared in a play with Neave's wife, Marjane Neshat, who portrays the lead Mia in the film.

It took several mornings and nights to get the film right, Neave explained. "You quickly realise why people don't make films in two shots," he said. "It's a technical nightmare." Neave, whose first film Cry Funny Happy premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003, was clearly thrilled finally to have his film before an audience. That did not, however, stop him from making a dig about the venue. "As independent filmmakers, it's our dream to screen in malls." Almost in Love screens again this afternoon at 4.15pm in Vox 4.

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Dear Abu Dhabi Film Festival organisers, a film festival audience that numbers in the hundreds plus huge vats of soda equals a bad call removing the toilets from your cinema lobby. Sadly, Vox Cinemas at the Marina Mall has done exactly that, forcing festival audiences to scurry into the mall for relief between films.

* Karl Smith, Saeed Saeed, Chris Lord, Hala Khalaf and Ann Marie McQueen