x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

From disco hedonism to Afghan tabla

The UAE's upcoming cultural events - from Indie rock and Afghan tabla to James Cameron's latest movie

Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in scene from James Cameron sci-fi thriller Avatar.
Zoe Saldana as Neytiri in scene from James Cameron sci-fi thriller Avatar.

The cat-people are out the bag. Now it can be told that the finale to this year's Dubai International Film Festival is to be James Cameron's sci-fi epic Avatar. To judge by the trailer, it is a CGI-heavy effort about a space marine who psychically possesses a member of a tribe of primitive, Sphinx-like aliens. In other words, it's mad as teeth on a toaster. Still, so many years after Titanic, his momentous last feature, anything Cameron does has to be regarded as a major event. Compliments to DIFF for nabbing it.

The rest of the line-up is at least as interesting, however. There's the world premiere of City of Life, the debut feature from the Emirati director Ali Mostafa and, by the by, the first major film to emerge from UAE talent. The opening gala is Nine, an adaptation of Arthur Kopit's stage musical whose improbably starry cast includes Daniel Day Lewis, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Marion Cotillard, Judi Dench, Kate Hudson and Sophia Loren. Don't let the threat of a singing Kidman put you off.

And there are treasures scattered throughout the rest of the programme: Jacques Audiard's prison bildungsroman Un Prophète, which narrowly missed the main prize at Cannes this year; One-Zero, Kamla Abu Zekry's reportedly charming portrait of Cairo in the grip of football fever; and intriguing mystical fantasy from Iran, The White Meadows. These are examples chosen almost at random: the programme is extensive and, to me at least, mostly bracingly unfamiliar. If you can't find something you enjoy you aren't trying. Still, like any film festival worth the name, it might call for a leap into the unknown.


The other big news this week is a clutch of big musical events at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace. The Killers are an indie rock band from Las Vegas and sound exactly the way you'd imagine from that description: tinselly and a bit self-loathing. They had that funny Christmas song last year - I think it went: "Are we Blitzen or are we Dancer?" Anyway, they're a bit less mainstream than some of the acts to visit the capital over the past few years, which can only be a good thing. Even if you don't care for them yourself - and they have as many detractors as fans - the cause of slightly marginal music in Abu Dhabi is a just one, best served by making your way to this concert. Who knows? If the turnout is good enough, someone might get the idea of booking The Fall for 2010. That would be a thing to see.


A few days later there's Creamfields Abu Dhabi, a day-long festival of disco hedonism staged on the Emirates Palace lawn. This is not a sentence I ever thought I'd type, but there's no time to waste on bafflement when the likes of Underworld and Calvin Harris get started. Of the other the acts, the most interesting is probably the canny Canadian producer Deadmau5 (pronounced "dead mouse"). His speciality is a muscular electro house with lots of grainy drum sounds and euphoric synths, but who needs a style when you have a gimmick? His is a giant cartoon mouse head that he wears on stage, a sort of Disneyfied rebranding of the old Daft Punk robot mask. His other distinguishing trait is a Tao Lin-style slackness in naming his material. Recent releases include Random Album Title and For Lack of a Better Name.


Finally, there's more beat-orientated music, albeit from a different tradition, when the Afghanistan-via-San Francisco tabla player Salar Nader comes to the Emirates Palace this week. Actually, it would be misleading to say he's from a different tradition altogether: Nader seems to be of the world-is-flat, DJ / Rupture school which thinks nothing of mixing ghazals with dub or moonlighting in a jazz fusion ensemble. Still, it seems reasonable to expect his Adach gig to stick to a more traditional path.