x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Third time's the charm for capital festival

As Abu Dhabi's third MEIFF got under way last night, there was glamour in equal measure from Hollywood and Bollywood.

Peter Scarlet, the MEIFF director, and his wife arrive for the opening night of the festival
Peter Scarlet, the MEIFF director, and his wife arrive for the opening night of the festival

ABU DHABI // Stars from in front of and behind the camera descended on the Emirates Palace hotel last night as the curtain was raised on the third Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF). Hilary Swank and Demi Moore were among the actors, actresses, producers and directors from all over the world who walked the red carpet.

Moore, in the UAE for the first time, said she was looking forward to seeing some Arabic films. "We are living in a global community, and there is a mix of so many films here that I am very excited," she said. Jamal Suleiman, Syrian actor who lives and works in Egypt, said he was here to see the varied international schedule of films, while Hend Sabri, wearing an off-the-shoulder sparkling white dress, was revealed as one of the judges for the documentary feature category.

Also attending was Hatem Ali, a director from Syria who recently worked on the TV series Siraa ala al Rimal (Struggle on the Sands), which was based on the poetry of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice-President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. From India, Frieda Pinto, who played the lead female role in this year's Academy Award winning film Slumdog Millionaire, said the only reason she was in Abu Dhabi was because of the movie, which had changed her life.

Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon al Nahyan gave an opening speech and Peter Scarlet, the festival's executive director, said he "couldn't have been more excited" to be premiering many local and regional films. "People laughed at me when I told them half the films to be played at the festival were from the Middle East," he said. "When they see what we are showing they won't be laughing any more." Suleiman, who has had success in Egyptian films such as Hadaig Al Shaytan (The Devil's Gardens), said: "The secret to the success of this festival is the many different nationalities of the actors attending and the films playing."

As the opening ceremony progressed, Swank, wearing a full- length cream dress by the Lebanese designer Elie Saab, took to the stage to present the Black Pearl for Lifetime Achievement, which was given to the British actress Vanessa Redgrave. Franco Nero, Redgrave's husband, accepted the award on her behalf after she cancelled two days ago because of a friend's ill health. Reading from a speech written by his wife, Mr Nero said: "Every film festival is important for the country and the society especially its young people.

"Film and theatre festivals are one of the only events in our world where we can have free exchange. I wanted to come very much." The opening ceremony continued with the screening of The Traveller, which stars Omar Sharif. aseaman@thenational.ae