First-chance saloon: world premieres at ADFF 2014
There is a special joy in the knowledge that you can be a tastemaker, part of a group containing at most a few hundred people who have the opportunity to give their first opinion on a movie – and in the digital age, this can be shared instantaneously with the world.
This year, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) boasts nine feature film world premieres, and over the course of 10 days the guessing game about how the films will turn out will finally be over. So, if you want to be among the first in the world to see a movie, these are the films you should look out for.
The opening-night film is the world premiere of From A to B – hugely significant because it’s also the first time that an Emirati film is opening the festival.
Ali F Mostafa, whose City of Life debuted at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2009, directs the tale of three childhood friends who set off on a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut in honour of a friend who is killed in Lebanon during the Israeli invasion of 2006. The cast includes the Saudi Arabian king of comedy, Fahad Albutairi.
Debuting in competition at the festival is El Ott (The Cat), directed by Ibrahim El Batout. The 42-year-old Egyptian star Amr Waked (Contagion, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) is the producer and star of the film, which is set in present-day Egypt, where the recent political upheavals have left a law enforcement gap in the country, which has allowed mob-led organ-trafficking gangs to thrive.
Waked previously worked with El Batout on Tahrir Square drama Winter of Discontent, which was Egypt’s nomination for the Oscars in 2013. So their form is good and this promises to be Egypt’s answer to Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things.
Iraqi Raad Mushatat has made The Silence of the Shepherd, which is showing in the New Horizons section – and it doesn’t seem to be a coincidence that the title bears a striking resemblance to the Hannibal Lecter thriller The Silence of the Lambs. The film concerns the mysterious disappearance of a 13-year-old girl, in which the only person who might be able to shed any light on the case is silent.
In the documentary competition we have Pirates of Salé, jointly directed by Merieme Addou and Rosa Rogers. This Sanad-funded project is about young kids in Morocco who want to join the circus. Cirque Shems’y sits on the edge of one of Morocco’s poorest slums and hundreds of teenagers come to audition each year.
The character-based observational film opens up the magical world of a circus. Moroccan director Rafik Addou is a former journalist, while Brit Rosa Rogers has directed several documentaries for British broadcasters including The Greatest Show on Earth, the story of a deaf dancer.
She has also made Casablanca Calling, which investigates a new generation of women who work as official Muslim leaders of Morchidat, an organisation that works in the poorest areas of Morocco trying to separate the truth of Islam from prejudices and misunderstandings.
Queens of Syria, by Yasmin Fedda, is another documentary in which the filmmaker follows a group of Syrian refugee women as they put on their own updated Arabic version of Trojan Women, Euripides’ ancient Greek play about refugees in Amman.
Fedda makes connections with the fact that the actors had experiences similar to those of the characters that they play. The women worked to incorporate their stories into the play, as a way of communicating to the world what had happened to them.
Born in Dubai in 1962, Nujoom Alghanem is an Emirati poet, writer and multi-award-winning film director who made Amal in 2011.
Her fifth feature-length documentary, Sounds of the Sea, follows the exploits of Saif Al Ibadi, a famous sea singer who wants to cross Umm Al Quwain Creek for the last time on a fishing boat and to sing one of his old folklore songs to the fishermen. However, he’s considered to have visual impairment by so many people around him, including his own children. This film bears witness to the constraints of old age.
Another new documentary is Um Ghayeb (Mother of the Unborn). In the isolated south of Egypt, Hanan has been trying to get pregnant for more than 12 years and has now become stigmatised as the “mother of the unborn”. Director Nadine Salib explores the maze of backward prejudices that treat women like her as victims of fate.
Egyptian Salib is best known for her award-winning short documentary Dawn.
There is also a screening of the much anticipated documentary As One: The Autism Project, which focuses on children, parents and teachers involved in a unique theatrical and musical programme in the UAE for children on the autism spectrum. The culmination of the programme was a musical staged for the cast’s friends and family, as well as UAE dignitaries.
The only non-Arab film making its world debut is the French film Young Tiger, directed by Cyprien Vial France, a graduate from the famed French film school La fémis. It’s about a 17-year-old boy from Punjab, who was provided for by the French government. He would be perfectly integrated, apart from the pressure to send money back to his parents in India.
Updated: October 21, 2014 04:00 AM