x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

From a child’s eyes

Daniel Patrick Carbone used to teach at NYUAD. Now he's back in the capital at Abu Dhabi Film Festival with his debut feature film.

The director Daniel Patrick Carbone at the screnning of Hide Your Smiling Faces. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Film Festival
The director Daniel Patrick Carbone at the screnning of Hide Your Smiling Faces. Courtesy Abu Dhabi Film Festival

There are many filmmakers attending the Abu Dhabi Film Festival from all over the world this week, but for one American, the visit has extra poignancy.

As well as promoting his film Hide Your Smiling Faces, the trip will give Daniel Patrick Carbone the chance to catch up with his old students and friends.

The 29-year-old spent three years living in the capital, teaching in the liberal arts department at New York University Abu Dhabi before his filmmaking career took off.

It was also in Abu Dhabi that he wrote and edited his movie, while he shot most of its scenes during his holidays back in the US.

Set in a small New Jersey community, the movie concerns the events that unfold for two brothers over the course of one summer.

After one of their friends dies in mysterious circumstances, the boys are forced to confront their own mortality.

The story is partly based on some of Carbone’s own experiences, and as it’s set in his own hometown it is a highly personal work.

During an interview at Emirates Palace, Carbone says in some respects he was pleased to revisit Abu Dhabi. “It’s great to see my old students again, who are graduating now, plus I can’t wait to go back to some of my favourite restaurants.

“But I don’t regret leaving. Because of the kind of person I am, I felt I wasn’t creatively thriving here.

“But it was good for the time because I kind of needed a place I could work. Plus, I met a ton of amazing people here whom I continue to stay in touch with.”

He decided to quit his job after Hide Your Smiling Faces was accepted to the Berlin Film Festival in December 2012. Since then, he has been living an itinerant lifestyle, travelling from festival to festival to promote the work.

And mostly, the movie has had a positive response from both critics and audiences.

“I think this is because the openness of the film means people can inject themselves in it, regardless of where they’re from,” he says.

“Everyone’s dealt with loss and everyone can remember difficult times when they were a kid. Other coming-of-age films are about trying to get girls or the lighter side of being young, while this shows a darker side of childhood.”

As for its showing in Abu Dhabi, Carbone was thankful that audiences seemed to understand his intent in the piece.

“In the film, it’s very green and it’s always raining. So it’s a similar environment to Europe, the US and Canada, so people can remember the same experiences during their summers off.

“This is the first time I’ve shown the film in an environment that is foreign to this, in a multitude of ways – religiously, geographically, socially and economically.

“But thankfully, the film still seemed to resonate here.”

Hide Your Smiling Faces finishes its festival run today and will go on limited release in the West early next year. Meanwhile, Carbone has now founded his own production house – Flies Collective – in New York with a couple of friends.

And although he was pleased to revisit the UAE for the duration of the festival, he doubts whether he would ever want to set one of his future projects here.

“I think the stories that are most interesting here in the UAE would probably be better made by someone from the country,” he contends.

“But it’s one of the most visually and culturally interesting places in the world and no one is really putting that on screen as yet.

“You know, you have the Sex and the City movie set in Abu Dhabi, but it’s not even shot here. People are taking the city at surface value, which is a shame as there’s a lot more happening here than is ­portrayed.”

• Hide Your Smiling Faces is showing tonight at 6.30pm at Vox 1, Marina Mall. For more information visit www.adff.ae

hberger@thenational.ae