I was in Abu Dhabi last week for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, so it was a movie marathon session for me at the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi Marina Mall and the Abu Dhabi Theatre, which in my opinion was the best location and wish more films were screened there. The theatre has an old school charm to it and was surprised when some of my friends from Abu Dhabi said they'd never been inside.
It was sad to see not all screenings were full. The local press was mainly promoting the big and obvious titles (i.e. anything that had big Hollywood names or Arab films with political or war storylines). Many of the smaller gems hardly got any promotion in the press or not enough promotion - which could explain why those screenings weren't packed.
I was very happy to see that almost all the non-Arabic movies were subtitled (something the Dubai International Film Festival doesn't do which I've written about before).
The festival was spread over 10 days, screening 172 films from 32 countries. For next year, it might be worth considering reducing the number of films (and maybe the days) to have a more compact schedule, hopefully more films can be watched by more people. Also please schedule less in the mall cineplex and schedule more in the Abu Dhabi Theatre and please, please improve the quality of food and beverages at the theatre as what was on offer was quite abysmal.
Here's a list of what I watched during the week, overall, I was very happy with what I saw, there were a couple of disappointments and there were a couple of films I really wanted to see but just didn't have the time.
The Kingdom of Women: Ein El Hilweh (Mamlakit Al Nisa'a Ein Hilweh) is a great story of women's resilience from Ein El Hilweh (the largest Palestinian refugee camp in south Lebanon) directed by Dahna Abourahme and told through interviews & beautiful animation by Lena Merhej.
Women Are Heroes, is a must see if you are interested in art with a cause. It's about JR, an anonymous photographer (or “photograffeur” as he likes to call himself, graffeur is French for graffiti artist). He describes his work as “political activism that uses art” and in this film you see his work and the impact of his large scale portraits infiltrating slum areas in Brazil, Kenya, India and Cambodia. It's powerful work, made me cry and really inspired me. During the week of the festival, it was announced that JR won the 2011 TED Prize worth $100,000. JR, whoever you are, wherever you are, I salute you.
Bill Cunningham New York introduced me to the wonderful Bill Cunningham. An absolute gem of a man, ahead of his time, full of integrity and vision. Wish there were more people like him.
Lixo Extraordinario (Waste Land) is another documentary about art for positive change. It's about the inspirational work by the amazing Vic Muniz. Set in Jardim Gramacho, one of the world’s largest garbage dumps situated on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro. Vic Muniz finds six catadores (pluckers) and creates breathtaking installations using their photographs and the recyclable materials they collect in order to survive. The outcome is inspiring and transformational on so many levels.
El Ambulante (The Peddler) from Argentina is a wonderful look at Daniel Burmeister, a nomadic filmmaker, who creates "handcrafted films" and its impact on the villagers he involves in the process. Anyone complaining they can't make a film because of financial restraints should really watch this and be inspired to do whatever it takes to make their films.
Bahebak Ya Wahsh! (How Bitter My Sweet!) is set in two cities in Lebanon and is a story about life in Lebanon today told through six different characters. Although it has some comedy moments, sadness reigns throughout.
A Man's Story about Oswald Boateng is a very well crafted documentary made in 12 years about a man who's brilliant at his craft. So inspiring and I really enjoyed it more than I imagined. It was also great to have Oswald Boateng and the director Varon Bonicos present for the question and answer session after the screening.
The Mummy / The Night of Counting the Years (Al Momia), a restored treasure from Egyptian cinema that was made in 1969. Loved that the dialogue was in classical Arabic. It had a very minimal setting- almost felt like watching a play on stage. A very slow paced film with some very deep thoughts.
Silent Souls (Ovsyanki), a Russian fable for adults. A subtle film with beautiful cinematography about deep love, a love that can be suffocating. It ended with a line 'Only love has no end'. It also won Best Narrative Film at this festival.
Emirates Competition Short Narrative, a very disappointing selection of short films. It was painful to sit through and I really wish the selection was of better quality. Out of what I saw, Night Guard was the best of the lot and One More Day had potential.
Potiche, a delightfully funny film set in France in the 1970s. I was really transported into that era, the music and outfits were great. It was also great watching Gerard Depardieu (who was present to open the movie) and Catherine Deneuve together and the scene with their disco moves on the dance floor is one of my favourite scenes from Potiche.
La Vida De Los Peces (The Life of Fish), a painfully beautiful film from Chile. An emotionally charged film about heartache, loss and wondering what if. The music soundtrack is just as moving. I was pretty much in tears the whole time. I absolutely love this film.
Al Yazerli (The Foreman) is a reminder how liberal Arab cinema was over 30 years ago. An Iraqi/Syrian production from 1972 and directed by Kais Al Zubaidi, it's a bold movie (and a bold choice by Abu Dhabi Film Festival) about sexual taboos, childhood imagination and reality. It had nudity without vulgarity and artistic expression without censorship. Shame the screening I attended was half empty. An important film for cinephiles.
Zephyr, a slow and intriguing film from Turkey set in the beautiful countryside. But within that beauty lies darkness and something sinister. What happens at the end is quite shocking, it made me gasp out loud in the cinema.
Hævnen (In a Better World) from Denmark had a great cast with two wonderful child actors. The pain of a child suffering from loss and abandonment is hard to watch, but nevertheless, a very good film.
Carlos was disappointing. I was hoping this would be one of my favourites, but many scenes in this film felt disjointed and some of the acting was very cliched. Maybe the original TV version that is over five hours long is better than this shortened version.
Metropolis was pure pleasure to watch. The extended 152 minutes added depth to the previous versions that most people have seen. The only thing missing was a live orchestra to enhance the experience. It's amazing how a film from 1927 is still so relavant after all these years.
I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You (Viajo porque preciso, volto porque te amo) is a beautifully titled film and a lovelorn travelogue set in Brazil. Very experimental, an original piece of work and overall just fantastic.
So that's my experience at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. It was a fun week and thanks to the friends (old and new) that hung out with me.
What was your highlight from the festival? What did you watch? Which one was your favourite/least favourite?