x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Festival puts on its own brand of movie magic

A new look, from red carpet walk to backdrop of Sheikh Zayed mosque and full moon.

:The Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, right, films the actors Neven Madi and Omar Al Mulla at the opening night of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr on Thursday.
:The Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, right, films the actors Neven Madi and Omar Al Mulla at the opening night of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr on Thursday.

ABU DHABI // A hail of flash photography marked the opening of the fifth Abu Dhabi Film Festival last night at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr just off the island.

Special guests from across the film world went for the usual saunter down the red carpet, this time involving an elevator ride at the end to take them to the enormous outdoor screen for the opening ceremony.

There was also a parkour performance by two British athletes, then the screening of the festival's first film, Monsieur Lazhar.

This is the first time the Fairmont has been used as the festival venue, with previous events taking place at the Emirates Palace.

The outdoor setting, with the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque lit up in the background, proved something of a talking point.

"It's fabulous tonight, how can we not enjoy this?" said the festival's executive director, Peter Scarlet, one of the first to take the red carpet walk.

"With all the planning we did to make this miracle happen here, who would have foreseen we'd have a full moon too?"

The Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau, who wrote and directed Monsieur Lazhar, said he was honoured his film had been chosen to open the festival but added it put weight on his shoulders.

"The opening film sets the tone for the whole festival. I don't want to open it on the wrong foot," Falardeau said.

There was a strong Egyptian presence at the opening ceremony, with the actress Bushra and the actor Khaled Abol Naga asked to stop every other metre of the red carpet by eager photographers.

Abol Naga, who does not appear in a festival film this year, said he was attending in support of a bigger cause.

"I'm for something more dramatic: a talk about the Arab Spring, which is much more important than any film I've ever seen," he said.

Another Egyptian on the carpet was the actress Laila Eloui, a narrative judge in the festival who showed up in a glittering silver gown by the Lebanese designer Elie Saab.

Mr Scarlet said there were likely to be surprises over the coming 10 days but he wasn't giving anything away.

"If I told you they wouldn't be surprises," he said. "They surprise me too sometimes. Last night I looked out to see the wonderful Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and it wasn't there, because there was a sandstorm. That's the kind of surprises you get."

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival will continue until October 22, with other red carpet screenings at the Abu Dhabi Theatre and a host of other features and documentaries shown at the Marina Mall's Vox Cinema.

While the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr's outdoor screen was reserved for the stars on the opening night, it will open for the public each evening for the rest of the festival.

aritman@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Haneen Dajani