TheNational hamburger logo

Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 7 March 2021

Al Ain Film Festival 2021: More than 85 movies to be shown at the largest iteration of the event yet

The festival, now in its third year, will take place between Saturday, January 23 and Wednesday, January 27

A scene from 'The Man Who Sold His Skin' 
A scene from 'The Man Who Sold His Skin' 

With five Oscar-submitted films on the slate, as well as a number of local and regional gems, 2021's Al Ain Film Festival promises to be the most impressive iteration of the event yet.

The festival, now in its third year, will take place between Saturday, January 23 and Wednesday, January 27. The opening and closing ceremonies will be held at Al Ain’s historic Al Jahili Fort.

The film screenings, meanwhile, will be held at Star Cinema at Bawadi Mall. The event will adhere to all the precautionary measures of Covid-19, including physical distancing at the venues.

More than 85 films to screen

“Since the festival began in 2019, our goal has always been to promote aspiring, as well as established, filmmakers from the UAE and the Arab world,” Amer Salmeen Al Murry, founder and director of the Al Ain Film Festival, says.

There will be something for everyone. We’ve prepared a really special programme for this year

Amer Salmeen Al Murry, founder and director of the Al Ain Film Festival

He adds that the festival also aims to highlight the heritage and natural beauty of Al Ain, and promote tourism to the city. “We want people to see for themselves how beautiful Al Ain city is; its history, customs and traditions."

While the festival will still focus on highlighting Emirati features and short productions, as well as regional ones, Al Murry says the programme for this year has been expanded to include more European films that don’t usually get screened in mainstream theatres.

In total, more than 85 films are scheduled to screen at the festival this year.

“There will be something for everyone. We’ve prepared a really special programme for this year. There are several prize-winning films, as well as a few that have been submitted to the Oscars this year.”

What's on the slate?

The films include the 2020 drama Heliopolis, directed by Algerian filmmaker Djafar Gacem. The film draws back the curtain on a dark chapter in Algerian history, following the life of a family as the country is gripped by a series of demonstrations against the French colonial rule, which were suppressed by French forces. The film was selected as the Algerian entry for the Best International Feature Film category at the coming Academy Awards.

The musical When We’re Born – Egypt’s official entry for the same category – will also be showing at the festival. The film, directed by Tamer Ezzat, weaves together the lives of three disparate Egyptian characters. This includes a son who dreams of becoming a singer against his father's wishes, a Christian woman in love with a Muslim man, and a newly-wed personal trainer who must compromise his principles for a chance to own a gym.

The Irish film Arracht is also set to screen. Directed by Tom Sullivan, the film is Ireland’s official entry into this year’s Oscars. It is set in 1845 on the eve of the Great Famine, a period of mass starvation that resulted in the deaths of more than a million people.

The official submission of Saudi Arabia for the Academy Awards, Scales, is also set to the screen at the 2021 festival. The film, directed by Shahad Ameen, is set in a dystopian landscape and tells the story of a young, strong-willed girl living in a fishing village that observes a dark tradition in which every family must give one daughter to the sea creatures who inhabit the waters nearby.

Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania’s critically-acclaimed drama The Man Who Sold His Skin will also be showing. The film follows a young Syrian refugee in Lebanon, who agrees to have his back tattooed by a famous artist in the hopes of joining his partner in Paris. However, he is soon viewed as a ‘work of art’, worth an enormous sum in the art market.

Awards, competitions and initiatives

The 12 winning short films of the Al Ain Film Festival’s 2020 competition, entitled Make Your Film in the Time of Corona, will also screen. The competition gave regional filmmakers the opportunity to create a three- to 15-minute film inspired by the lockdown imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A number of other initiatives will also be introduced at this year's festival, including a collaboration with Abu Dhabi Festival. The two events have come together to launch a competition for young Emirati scriptwriters. The Abu Dhabi Festival for Unproduced Screenplay will award three prizes of Dh20,000 each to the best three short films. Winners will be announced in June following an evaluation and selection process via a special jury that includes Arab filmmakers and scriptwriters.

A new prize, the Fareed Ramadan Award, named in honour of the late Bahraini writer, has also been introduced. It will be given to the best screenplay of a feature film from the Gulf.

The festival will also honour artist Sheikha Alyazia bint Nahyan Al Nahyan and Emirati director Nujoom Al-Ghanem.

A detailed programme is available at

Updated: January 20, 2021 09:51 PM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one