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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 25 May 2018

Crowd doubles at literature festival

Filmmaker's tale of persistence and success is a highlight of the final day of the event, which attracted 50,000 to hear some 130 authors

Authors including Jane Bristol Rhys, Abraham Verghese, Marina Lewycka, Leila Aboulela and Lionel Shriver were busy signing autographs at the Festival of Literature, which ended yesterday.
Authors including Jane Bristol Rhys, Abraham Verghese, Marina Lewycka, Leila Aboulela and Lionel Shriver were busy signing autographs at the Festival of Literature, which ended yesterday.

DUBAI // The Emirati filmmaker Ali Mostafa told yesterday of how he overcame opposition after authorities decided to prohibit his 2009 film City of Life because it depicts drinking and partying in night clubs.

When he learnt that the film had been prohibited, Mostafa recounted, he decided not to take "no" for an answer. And after the film's Emirati actor, a friend of Mostafa, appealed to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the film got the go-ahead.

"He [Sheikh Mohammed] saw the film and he loved it. He said we should be proud of our achievement. I had a tear rolling down my eye when I heard that," Mostafa told audiences yesterday as the five-day Emirates Airline Festival of Literature drew to a close.

Organisers pointed to the participation of Mostafa and that of others in asserting that the three-year-old festival had made its mark on the literary scene.

"We have arrived," Isabol Abulhoul, the festival director, said. "Three years is not a long time. Authors seem to love coming to the festival and they tell their friends about coming here."

She described this year's festival as "manic" because of the number of people and authors who had attended the event.

"We got double the numbers this year. We need to gather all the feedback from the authors and the audience to know what works and what does not," Ms Abulhoul said at the end of the third annual festival.

She estimated that 50,000 people had visited the five-day festival, twice as many as last year. The exact visitor number will be tallied soon. About 130 authors were at the festival, more than last year's 107.

Masterclasses and workshops continued to be sold out on the final day, as book lovers and aspiring writers listened to authors, filmmakers, poets, journalists and actors give practical tips.

Mostafa was among those who offered advice to other writers.

"It wasn't that it [City of Life] was controversial," he said. "It was about them being scared of treading new ground."

"I wanted to show these things like drinking and driving to make people understand. I thought people were ready to watch this sort of film," said the director, who is also a writer and producer. "I wanted to show Dubai as a real city with real problems and real people."

He said the film addressed the impact of drink driving at the end of the film, thereby creating a balance and tackling the controversial issues raised at the beginning.

City of Life revolves around three characters: a young Emirati, a Romanian flight attendant and an Indian taxi driver living in Dubai.

In another session at the festival, the British author and poet Tony Buzan said that by using imagination and association, it was possible to develop the brain.

"Memory is based on imagination and association. So is creativity," said the author, who is known for his theories and books on the power of the brain. "Poetry is psychology, communication, history, science, art, understanding and all the things we would like to know."

The final day of the Festival also saw five of the six shortlisted authors of the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2011 - Mohammed Achaari, Khaled Al Berry, Bensalem Himmich, Amir Tag Elsir and Miral Al Tahawy - speak about their work.

The winner of the prize, called the Arabic Booker, will be announced in Abu Dhabi tomorrow.

The prize is awarded to the best Arabic fiction from the past year.

The six novels have been selected from more than 120 submissions from across the Arab world.

pkannan@thenational.ae