x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

It's showtime for Abu Dhabi Film Festival

With a new main venue and a host of movies and stars, there's something for everyone at the fifth Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

The outdoor screening area on the grounds of the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr for the fifth annual Abu Dhabi Film Festival is still being erected. Lee Hoagland / The National
The outdoor screening area on the grounds of the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr for the fifth annual Abu Dhabi Film Festival is still being erected. Lee Hoagland / The National

When the curtains are raised on the fifth instalment of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival on Thursday night, complete with a gala screening of Monsieur Lazhar, there will be one major difference anyone who attended in previous years should notice: it's not in the Emirates Palace.

This time around, the opening screening will be held at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr by the capital's creek, while the other red-carpet, smile-for-the-camera, wave-at-the-celebrity screenings will take place at the Abu Dhabi Theatre on the Breakwater across from Marina Mall. The Fairmont will also house most of the talks, workshops and awards ceremonies held throughout the festival as well as providing beds to many of the stars attending, should you fancy trying to catch sight of an A-lister relaxing in their Speedos around the pool or stuffing their pockets with croissants at the breakfast buffet. And by night, the hotel's beachfront will become an al fresco cinema, with films shown each evening on a huge outdoor screen with seating for 1,200. Marina Mall's Vox Cinema will, as before, be showing most of the regular screenings.

"I've always wanted to do an outdoor screen," says the festival's executive director, Peter Scarlet, of the venue change. "It's a different audience and the setting is magnificent."

While the Emirates Palace was able to provide a useful central hub for the festival in previous years, the hope this time around is that the new venue can help attract more visitors as the city expands outwards. "The demographic of this town is changing as more and more people move out here," says Scarlet. "Our centre will still be Marina Mall and the Abu Dhabi Theatre, but we wanted to give people in another part of town a chance to see at least some films."

And those who do venture to the Fairmont will also be able to easily access the events in Marina Mall and the Abu Dhabi Theatre as well, thanks to a free shuttle bus set to run every 15 minutes from 8am to 2am, which will connect the three venues, as well as the InterContinental Hotel. Parking shouldn't be a problem either, with plenty of spaces at the Fairmont and the mall. There are limited spots at the Abu Dhabi Theatre, so those lucky enough to get a ticket for a screening there are advised to park at the mall and jump on a shuttle bus.

We may not yet know the filmmaking talent to be gracing the Abu Dhabi Theatre's red carpet (the names should be released later this week), but the film schedule is already available and tickets are on sale now at the festival's website www.adff.ae and box offices in Marina Mall and the Fairmont.

Movie-wise, it's a dangerous game picking out the must-sees for fear of reprisals, but a few themes spring forward that could offer some interest away from the big-name Hollywood titles (George Clooney! Ryan Gosling! Keira Knightley!). The Egyptian revolution is the subject matter for two films - 18 Days and Tahrir: the Good, the Bad & the Politician. The former was screened in Cannes just three months after the fall of Mubarak, while the latter was one of the beneficiaries of the festival's own Sanad film grant. Egypt is again the subject in a special celebration of the author Naguib Mahfouz on the 100th anniversary of his birth, with a selection of films based on his novels, including a chance to see a pre-grey Omar Sharif in 1961's The Beginning and the End.

Of course, while it may very well be a film festival, you don't have to spend all of your time sitting in a darkened room spilling popcorn all over your lap. At Marina Mall there will be a variety of activities, including the chance to watch professional make-up artists transform models into Na'vi characters from Avatar. If simply being a bystander isn't enough, visitors will also be able to have their photo taken in front of a green screen and be superimposed into a scene from a film.

Perhaps the most exciting event at Marina Mall is the recreation of the red-carpet experience for those who might not have managed to get their hands on a golden ticket to one of the gala screenings. In something of a first for the festival, the general public will have the opportunity to interact with cast and crew, who will be brought over to the mall depending on their schedules. Just remember to ask before you take a picture with your arm around one.

Should anyone find that they're going to be away for the duration of the festival, there's still hope. While the stars will probably have waved cheerio to the UAE and the red carpet will have been rolled up for another year, the outdoor screenings on the Fairmont's beach will continue for another five nights, from October 25 to 29. Best of all, the films will either be the UAE premiere or be shown the same day as the UAE premiere, and include the Footloose remake (October 26), the current box-office topper Dolphin Tale (October 28) and Brad Pitt's latest film Moneyball (October 29).

Only a true hater of cinema would struggle to find at least one thing that tickles their interest at this year's Abu Dhabi Film Festival. If you do fit into that category, however, perhaps it's worth avoiding the city for a couple of weeks. If not, we'll see you down there.


Movie Highlights

Death for Sale

A lively and gritty thriller set in the seedy Moroccan port city of Tetouan, Death for Sale follows a failed jewellery store heist by three young friends hoping to escape the cycle of poverty that hangs around their necks. This is the third feature from the noted Moroccan director and artist Faouzi Bensaïdi, whose 2003 film A Thousand Months was screened in Cannes. Friday, 3.30pm, Marina Mall Vox 1

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog is undoubtedly among cinema’s greats, and this documentary sees the veteran director at his very best. After being granted special permission from the French government, Herzog was the first person allowed to film in the Chauvet cave, which contains the world’s oldest-known prehistoric paintings, dating back some 32,000 years. In this film he brings these ancient artworks to life in stunning 3D. Friday, 4pm, Marina Mall Vox 5

Chicken With Plums

Marjane Satrapi’s book may have been a graphic novel, but this follow-up to the brilliant Persepolis is a live-action affair featuring the acting talents of the emerging Iranian star Golshifteh Farahani and the Italian actress Isabella

Rossellini. Set in 1950s Tehran, it tells the story of Nasser Ali, a talented musician who vows to die after his wife breaks his beloved tar (an Iranian instrument similar to a violin). Saturday, 2.30pm, Marina Mall Vox 8

Travels Through Time, Colour and Space

It may be billed as a “family day special programme” but here is something everybody should see. The film historian Serge Bromberg presents a selection of film rarities that he has saved from destruction, including silents that he accompanies on the piano. It’s followed by the restored 1902 masterpiece A Trip to the Moon, by Georges Méliès, considered the first-ever science-fiction film. Saturday, 4pm, Marina Mall Vox 5

El Gusto

Billed as Algeria’s very own Buena Vista Social Club, El Gusto documents the meeting of a group of traditional north African “Chaabi” musicians – both Muslim and Jewish – who meet for a reunion concert 50 years after they were separated by the Algerian war. There’s an Abu Dhabi link too, as this film received funding from the festival’s Sanad grant. Saturday, 4.30pm, Marina Mall Vox 4