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Arab cinema in renaissance
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 16 - 10 - 2012

Mariam Nihal
Saudi Gazette

ABU DHABI — The Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) returned with a star-studded affair this year, reinforcing Abu Dhabi as the region's most supportive center of Arab cinema. Movies and glamour met on the red carpet at Emirates Palace on the opening night of the 10-day festival that runs from October 11-22.
Women accounted for more than 50 percent of participants in the Emirates Film Competition this year. Ali Al Jabri, Director of the ADFF, told Saudi Gazette that this was a sign of growing government support toward culture.
Culture is a mighty engine that empowers society in all its components, allowing citizens to pursue what better suits their skills, and ultimately for the good of the country.
The cast and crew of “Arbitrage”, which is produced by Saudi filmmaker Mohammed Al Turki and stars Richard Gere, met the audiences at Emirates Palace. During the festival the public is encouraged to attend free master classes offered in the evening. The first film screening was held at Marina Mall, a double bill of films about environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Christo and Director Antonio Ferrera attended the screening.
This year, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival has been presented under the management of TwoFour54, as part of the plan to strategically align the festival alongside Abu Dhabi's other media initiatives and related events.

Jabri spoke with Saudi Gazette in an exclusive interview discussing the potential of Arab filmmakers.
Saudi Gazette: How has the quality and diversity of work of films both local and international improved the stance of the ADFF?
Jabri: There is of course a very close relationship between the quality of a festival and the quality of the films it shows. ADFF is striving to present the best films produced in the GCC region, the Arab world and internationally. We have been very successful in doing so. Each year the festival increases its reputation and more and more producers and filmmakers trust the festival with their newest films. This year most of the films we are showing were completed only a few months ago. This means that the Festival has built a reputation and a prestige for a truly first-class international film festival and I believe that the Arab world needs to play a prominent international role also in this field.
Saudi Gazette: How do you describe the evolution of Arab cinema and filmmakers from the region?
Jabri: Storytelling really runs in Arab blood. To find good compelling stories to tell has never been the problem. The good news is that better technical skills and better producers now support those stories. In the last few years, labs meant to improve filmmakers' skills and funds to support their projects financially have been flourishing in Arab countries.
Now we can start to see the results; Arab films are increasingly participating in the most important international film festivals: Cannes, Venice, Toronto and Berlin.
For several years now, GCC countries have been strongly supporting local talent and the three Gulf festivals in Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi are instrumental in doing so with their labs, their activities in support of production and of course in helping films to reach their own audience.
Saudi Gazette: Tell us about Arbitrage. How does the movie by Mohammed Al Turki featuring Richard Gere influence the festival?
Jabri: Arbitrage is an excellent film and we had a wonderful opening night showing it. I think it reflects somehow the vision of the festival: to show that there is not contradiction in being an art film with important content and strong filmmaking, and a crowd-pleaser.
Saudi Gazette: What is distinctive about ADFF?
Jabri: I think the most distinctive element of ADFF is that because we really believe in the quality of Arab cinema, we decided not to have a competition just for Arab films but a truly international one where Arab filmmakers compete against their international colleagues: Nouri Bouzid and Rachid Benhadji for instance are showing their films side by side with Winterbottom, Potter, De Oliveira, Cipr? and Ozon. The same happens in all sections.
Saudi Gazette: For the first time UAE nationals will join international filmmakers on juries judging films in competition. Tell us about the committee and the initiative to give UAE nationals decision-making powers.
Jabri: I am very pleased that Nawaf Al-Jahani could accept our invitation to be a juror. He is a very talented filmmaker and his two films — The Circle (2009) and Sea Shadow (2011) — are extremely accomplished works, which met the consensus of both critics and public. Quite a few festivals all over the world selected them.
I think you earn your decision-making power through your commitment and your talen. Nawaf Al-Jahani is an excellent example of it. I am incredibly proud to see so many young Emiratis making a successful career for themselves in all fields and becoming increasingly influential in the life of our country.
Saudi Gazette: Does the increase in commercial partnerships reinstate the growth of ADFF as a festival and a pioneering change within the Middle East? How has the response been?
Jabri: We are very pleased with the relationships we have with our partners and sponsors. The increase in their number is a sign of trust in ADFF and a further confirmation that the festival is building increasing belief and trust.
Saudi Gazette: What do you plan to achieve through establishing such a festival and how far have you made it to realizing that dream?
Jabri: It is important to me to nurture the burgeoning local talent and to have the festival playing an important role in supporting Arab filmmakers and projects. I want ADFF to be a real center of exchange between the protagonists of cinema from all over the world. I want a festival that contributes to the growth of an audience that continue searching for non-Hollywood/Bollywood films after the end of the Festival. Dreams are meant to remain dreams because if you can realize them, it means that your dreams are small. I have big dreams about ADFF and will keep working on them with the support of my team.
Saudi Gazette: Do you think there will be a time or category for filmmakers of different origins living in the region to be able to participate in the competition?
Jabri: There is room for all filmmakers in our competitions — as long as there is talent in their work. I hope to be able to have an increasing number of extraordinary Arab films playing at ADFF.

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