Award-winning Cannes director wants to meet regional filmmakers

Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako arrives for the opening ceremony of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. EPA
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Award-winning Cannes director wants to meet regional filmmakers at ADFF 2014

For his latest movie Timbuktu, Abderrahmane Sissako has already won two awards at Cannes, earned across-the-board praise, and been selected as his country's official Oscars entry.

But when I found myself sharing a table with the Mauritanian filmmaker at ADFF’s opening bash, he seemed convinced there was plenty for him to learn from his trip to the Middle East.

Talking to me earlier on the red carpet, he said that what had convinced him to come to the UAE was the chance to meet young filmmakers from the region, to share ideas and collaborate.

He said: “To bring the movie anywhere is a good thing – but especially in this part of the world because cinema is very new for many people here, and it’s important to take the view of not only Hollywood.”

Timbuktu, Vox Cinemas Marina Mall, Sunday, October 26, 8.45pm, and Tuesday, October 28, 3.30pm.

Meet the worst football team in the world ... at ADFF

The entire cinema burst into spontaneous applause midway through Next Goal Wins, a rapturous appreciation of the American Samoa national team scoring what was only the third goal in the team's 17-year history.

I’ve simply never seen such a reaction in a cinema – it was more like a football stadium than a festival movie screening.

An American territory in the South Pacific with a population of 55,000, American Samoa holds the record for the biggest international football defeat ever – they were crushed 31-0 by Australia in 2001.

Ten years later, the tiny nation was still ranked the worst football team in the world by FIFA – and a team of British filmmakers decided they would make a fine subject for a documentary.

“Even if you know nothing about football, you know that’s a huge number,” producer Kristian Brodie told viewers at the first screening in Abu Dhabi.

“These guys were so bad – but at the same time they had the spirit to continue playing.”

The film starts off with an account of the team’s 2011 run in the South Pacific Games – during which they conceded 26 goals in five games (and scored none).

A year later, Uncle Sam dug deep and recruited Dutch coach Thomas Rongen – the only man to apply for the job – for an intensive three-weeks training camp ahead of the first round of the World Cup Qualifiers.

When they hammer home their first goal of the game, the cinema erupts. When the tie against Tonga ends 2-1 – the team’s first win – the room breaks out in applause.

It was a genuinely heartwarming moment, matched only when, at the screening’s close, the team’s goalkeeper for more than decade, Nicky Salapu, appeared from the wings to take questions.

“When the film crews showed up, I thought they were making fun of us,” he said. “But now I love the attention, it keeps me going and I feel very, very blessed.”

Sadly American Samoa didn’t win another game, or make it to the 2014 World Cup finals – but ever-enthusiastic Nicky is already psyched about the 2018 campaign.

Next Goal Wins, Vox Cinemas Marina Mall, Monday, October 27, 3.45pm

UAE filmmaker behind Sounds of the Sea hoping for international audience

Nujoom Al Ganem is excited to be presenting the world premiere of her new documentary at ADFF.

Speaking on the red carpet on opening night, the Emirati filmmaker admitted it it was a thrill for Sounds of the Sea to be in competition with big-hitters such as the Tribeca best-documentary winner Point and Shoot.

But most of all she hopes the exposure will help find an international audience for her film, a touching portrait of life on Umm Al Quwain creek, a world framed by folk traditions and sea songs.

She said: “I’m quite excited because [the film is] competing in the international competition – this is an honour for me.

“Of course we would be happy and fascinated if we get a very good crowd for the local community – but we would also be very excited to have all nationalities coming and watching the film.”

Sounds of the Sea, Vox Cinemas Marina Mall, Saturday, October 25, 9.15pm, and Sunday, October 26, 9.30pm.

Magical Girl: Not for the faint hearted

And the award for the most knotty ADFF plot so far goes to... Magical Girl.

Winner of both the Golden and the Silver Shells at San Sebastián – home wins for the film and director respectively – Carlos Vermut’s second feature also impressed critics at Toronto.

But at ADFF it viscerally shocked audiences – we heard gasps, saw bodies contort in shock and spotted a few overwhelmed viewers leave the cinema altogether.

Starting off as a seemingly heartfelt indie about a terminally ill 12-year-old girl with leukaemia longing for a party dress, and her doting unemployed father, the film soon took a series of increasingly unpredictable plot turns. Gritty realism slowing slides into Lynchian unease, in a script that raises the stakes emotionally and takes on issues of greed, trust, longing and the unseen consequences of your actions.

What his work lacks in humanity, it makes up for in spades of dark comedy and careful plotting – Vermut is a serious player worth taking note of.

Magical Girl, Vox Cinemas Marina Mall, Friday, October 31, 9pm.