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Podcast featuring discussions and interviews about the cultural happenings in the United Arab Emirates presented by Hind Mezaina (The Culturist) and Wael Hattar.


Entries in ADFF (4)


Algerian Cinema at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2012 

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival starts today and after sharing my top 20 picks, it would be remiss of me if I didn't highlight the focus on Algerian cinema at this festival. 

Part of this year's Abu Dhabi Film Festival is a programme called "The Spirit of Independence: Algerian Cinema" which celebrates the 50th anniversary of post-independence Algerian cinema. The line up includes rare screenings of films that inspired a national Algerian cinema, plus the most famous Algerian film of all time, The Battle of Algiers, a great and timeless film (if you've never watched it before, this is your chance. 

Here's the full line up.  

The Battle of Algiers (1966)
One of the most influential political films ever, Gillo Pontecorvo’s incendiary street-level agitprop classic vividly re-creates a key year in the tumultuous struggle for independence from the French in the 1950s. 
Screening and ticket information

Chronicle of the Years of Embers  (Chronique des années de braise / Waqai’ Sanawat al-Jamr) (1975)

The first and only film from the Arab world to be awarded the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina’s lyrical epic traces the Algerian revolution against the French through the experiences of a peasant.
Screening and ticket information

Opium and the Baton (L' opium et le baton) (1969) 

Ahmed Rachedi’s adaptation of Mouloud Mammeri’s novel about resistance fighters follows members of the a family who are at once separated and united by the war for independence. (Please note this film will be screened only in Arabic with French subtitles.)
Screening and ticket information.

Inspector Tahar's Holiday (Les vacances de l'inspecteur Tahar) (1972)
The Adventures of Inspector Tahar was a well-loved series of comedies directed by Moussa Haddad in the 1960s and 1970s featuring a comic pair of detectives. Here the duo investigate a murder at a Tunisian resort.
Screening and ticket information


A pulse-pounding political thriller, Greek expatriate director Costa-Gavras’s Zwas one of the cinematic sensations of the late sixties, and remains among the most vital dispatches from that hallowed era of filmmaking. This Academy Award winner—loosely based on the 1963 assassination of Greek left-wing activist Gregoris Lambrakis—stars Yves Montand as a prominent politician and doctor whose public murder amid a violent demonstration is covered up by military and government officials; Jean-Louis Trintignant is the tenacious magistrate who’s determined not to let them get away with it. Featuring kinetic, rhythmic editing, Raoul Coutard’s expressive vérité photography, and Mikis Theodorakis’s unforgettable, propulsive score, Z is a technically audacious and emotionally gripping masterpiece. (via Criterion)
Schedule and ticket information. 


Review: Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2011


A bit of an overdue review, but here it is.

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival ran for 10 days in October, it brought us more than 150 films - short and full features, documentaries and special programs. The one major change at this year's festival was the venue of the official host hotel and headquarters, it moved from the Emirates Palace Hotel to the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr with its new open-air cinema. I didn't get a chance to check it out because it was almost half an hour drive away from the other locations that screened the majority of the films - the charming but underused Abu Dhabi Theatre and the very ordinary VOX Cinemas in Marina Mall (sadly, one of the most unpleasant malls I've been to).

I had a great marathon session of movie watching and glad to say there wasn't anything that I disliked from my list. I skipped the short films because of time and I avoided all films/documentaries related to the Arab Spring. The stories are still being told and I think it's too soon to objectively reflect about what's happening.

So here's a rundown.

Documentaries -  One thing I find the Abu Dhabi Festival do well is their selection of documentaires. The ones that stood out for me this year include:

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is about a collection of rare 16mm footage that was recently discovered in the basement of a Swedish television station. The archival footage was recorded by a group of Swedish journalists who followed the Black Power movement in the USA from 1967 to 1975. Co-produced by Danny Glover and directed by Göran Hugo Olsson, it is very thought provoking and left me thinking about what has changed and what has remained the same.

The Tiniest Place by Tatiana Huezo is a very emotional documentary about Cinquera, a small village in El Salvador and the trauma endured by its inhabitants during the civil war. We silently follow the day to day lives of its survivors on screen, but we hear them narrating their stories, their thoughts and feel the emotional and psychological damage that's taken place.

The City Dark, a documentary about light pollution and the disappearance of the night. We follows its filmmaker Ian Cheney, who moves to New York City and discovers the sky is almost completely devoid of stars. It's a lovely visual essay with some great astrophotography. The film questions what is lost when we because of light pollution and explores our relationship with the stars. It includes interviews with some very interesting (and quirky) characters in the field of astronomy, astophysics, biology and cancer research.

Project Nim, was the one I was looking forward to the most because I've been reading abut how great it is for months. I was not disappointed, how could I, its made by the same team behind  Man on Wire, which is one of my favourite documentaries. In Project Nim, James Marsh again brilliantly crafts a documentray with touching inerviews and amazing archival footage. Nim, a chimpanzee who was taken away from birth and was raised like a human child, part of a research project by Professor Herbet Terrace to study animal language acquisition. We see Nim grow, the impact he has on the lives of the people that take care of him and of the research project itself. The film really made me reflect on human behaviour which on many occasions is dark and frgtening.

El Gusto, the darling of this year's festival is a music documentary by Safinez Bousbia. Described as the Arab version of "Buena Vista Social Club", El Gusto is a nostalgic look at the origins of Chaabi music in Algeria and the men behind it. Bousbia started working on this from 2004 when a chance meeting led her on a mission to track down the key musicians from this period. It's beautifully filmed with very endearing personalities and storytellers. It's a reminder of a time long gone, when life in the Casbah inhabited by both Muslims and Jews was lively, bohemian and joyful. All that changed after the War of Independence in 1954. The film climaxes with an emotional reunion of the surviving members who all play again for the first time after five decades. The film received a standing ovation at both screenings and won the Best Director of the Arab World award. It's clearly a labour of love and I imagine it will make its way around the festival circuit in the coming year after it had its world premiere in Abu Dhabi. 

Full feature films - there was a good selection of films from around the world, but these four films stood out for me for their style and story telling.

Almost in Love by Sam Neave is decribed as "a love story in two takes". It is shot in two uninterrupted 40 minute takes and addresses love, friendship and loyalty in one of the most honest ways I've seen on the big screen. It is a very intimate film with great dialogue - watching it made me feel like I'm in the same room as the characters in the film.

Stories Only Exist When Remembered by Julia Murat is a beautifully made heart wrenching story about loneliness, old age and death. We follow the daily routines of a small and elderly community in a small village in Paraiba Valley in Brazil. Their daily routines are somewhat disrupted with the arrival of Rita, a young travelling photographer who stays on to photograph the people and the village and through her photographs we are left with some unanswered questions.

A Separation by Asghar Farhadi won the Golden Bear at this year's Berlin film festival. It's about a married couple Simin and Nader and their desire to do the right thing. Simin wants to leave Iran with Nader and their daughter Termeh for a better future. Nader wants to stay back to look after his ill father. What happens over the next two hours of the film is a slow unravelling of events and secrets that lead to some dire consequences. A very well crafted film, with great acting and script - it ends with no definitive answers, because as Asghad Farhadi said at the Q & A session after the screening, even he doesn't know the answers. 

We Need To Talk About Kevin - an amazing film on every level - the acting, the visuals, the editing, the soundtrack. About a mother-son relationship that is one of the most uncomfortable I've seen on the big screen, we go back and forth between the present and the past to figure out what led to Kevin's murderous tendencies. Needless to say, it's very dark, very grim - the kind of film that leaves you speechless after the end credits roll. 


Other highlights of the festival include:

Sea Shadow was the only full feature film from the United Arab Emirates that screened at this festival. Directed by Nawaf Al Janahi (his second feature film after The Circle) and produced by Abu Dhabi's Image Nation, the film is set in a small seaside town in Ras Al Khaimah and follows teenagers and their teenage dreams amidst the emotional and generational divide between parents and children in the United Arab Emirates of today. It's a gentle film that looks good visually. But it had some dark undertones related to sexual abuse which wasn't addressed with depth. It made me wonder if it's the Emirati filmmakers or the Emirati audience who aren't ready to tackle deeper subjects on film. (Look out for a full review coming soon on this blog.)

Between Heaven and Earth was part of the 'Naguib Mahfouz–Man of Cinema' series that celebrated his 100th birthday. Written by Naguib Mahfouz and directed by Salah Abu Seif in 1960, the film is set in an elevator on a hot Friday afternoon in Cairo. The elevator is filled with people that represent Egyptian society (a movie star, a thief, a madman, a cook and a pregnant woman to name a few) who are trapped in it for 12 hours. What is revealed in during the time they are trapped in the elevator is relevant today as it was 50 years ago. It was such so special for me to watch a classic Egyptian black and white film on the big screen for the first time.

But the most delightful highlight of the festival goes to...

I end my review with the most delightful moment of the festival which happened at the misnamed "Family Day Special Program". This section was presented by Serge Bromberg from Lobster Films, a film historian and an expert on film restoration. He screened a selection of restored silent film gems - fantasy films, travelogues, animation and Buster Keaton's long lost short The Love Nest from 1923 - all accompanied by live piano (well, actually a keyboard) played by Serge Bromberg. The cherry on top was the screening of the restored colour version of The Trip to The Moon by George Melies from 1902 - often described as the 'first science fiction movie ever made'. It was accompanied by the new soundtrack composed by French electro duo Air, who were also present to talk about the music and what inspired them to make it. As a lover of silent films and a fan of Air, this basically added the cool factor to the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. Here's a taster of what I saw.


My top 20 picks for Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2011

Scene from Sea Shadows, directed by Nawaf Al Janahi

The 2011 edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival is on next week from 13th-22nd October. I'm looking forward to going back to Abu Dhabi again to watch as many movies as I can. Majority of the screenings will take place at VOX Cinemas at Marina Mall, but I'm very glad there will be some screenings at the charming Abu Dhabi Theatre, my favourite venue from last year.

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Review: Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2010

Outside the Abu Dhabi Theatre

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.

Inside the Abu Dhabi Theatre
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.

Feature Films:
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.

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?