x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

5,000 visitors finish 3,000 packets of popcorn

With bright orange walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and a view across the Emirates Palace beach, the festival tent is one of the sunniest places at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

The festival tent has proved a vital spot for networking and impromptu meetings.
The festival tent has proved a vital spot for networking and impromptu meetings.

ABU DHABI// With bright orange walls, floor-to-ceiling windows and a view across the Emirates Palace beach, the festival tent is one of the sunniest places at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

The 30-metre by 30-metre tent, six metres high, is on the veranda of the palace near the auditorium where many of the leading films have been showing all week. During each busy day it has served as a crossroads for guests, industry professionals, filmmakers and actors. One of the most popular features, however, has been the free popcorn.

Almost 5,000 visitors consumed 3,000 packets of the stuff in the first seven days.

"I was astounded at how popular it has been," said Jane Ali Knight, the festival tent manager. "We had to go back to the manufacturer and ask for more. I think everyone associates popcorn with films, whether you are in front or behind the camera or just a member of the audience."

As one of the places festival goers congregate to eat and drink, the tent has proved to be a vital spot for networking and impromptu meetings - the often unmentioned but hugely important byproduct of festivals.

Morten Hovland, a Norwegian director whose short film Iydll is in competition, was on the lookout for the only other filmmaker from Norway. He came up short at every event until, by chance, over lunch in the tent, he finally found him.

"It is not what we are all here for, we are only fulfilling our basic needs of food and drink when we come to the tent, but actually it ends up being where everything happens," he said. "It is the meeting point of the festival."

Haifaa al Mansour, the Saudi director who won the Abu Dhabi Film Commission's $100,000 (Dh370,000) Shasha Grant prize last year for her script Wajda, said the sunlit tent had been central to her festival experience.

"It's the place everyone comes so it is easy to find each other," she said. "One day my German producer called me because he wanted me to meet a Dutch producer who was at the festival. He told me to go to the tent to find him. I didn't know what he looked like but I just asked a few people and I found him straight away. Everyone is friendly, it is a really nice place."

Ms Mansour had also managed to put a name to many of the faces she has been communicating with since winning the grant, she said.

Every day of the festival the tent has been a focal point for film-related events, workshops and question and answer sessions.

Yesterday Slumdog Millionaire's Frieda Pinto took questions there from a public audience about her new film Miral, in which she plays a teacher in a Palestinian orphanage.

In the afternoon Doug Liman, the American film director behind The Bourne Identity and Mr & Mrs Smith who has a new film about the Iraq war, Fair Game, sat in conversation with the Qarantina director Oday Rasheed, whose independent movie is set in post-Saddam Iraq.

Julianne Moore, the cast of Slakistan and Gérard Depardieu also visited the tent many times.

Ms Ali Knight said the idea was to create a place where everyone felt comfortable.

"We wanted an atmosphere of an independent cinema cafe or bar with the added bonus of running into a star or a filmmaker if you were lucky," she said.

"We have had lots of positive feedback, I think it has been successful."

Negin Salmasi, an Iranian-American freelance producer from New York, said one of the reasons the tent worked was that it was designed for socialising, as the large white sofas and communal dining tables encouraged people to talk to each other.

"You can't sit in a corner here," she said. "That's why I like it. I have run into people I know from New York and made a lot of contacts in Beirut where I am currently researching a film. I don't think the festival would be the same without it."

 

aseaman@thenational.ae