UAE cinema makes a splash at Cannes

Arab-filmmaking is in the spotlight at Cannes this year.

Shivani Pandya, the managing director of the Dubai International Film Festival. Ki Price
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After days of heavy rain, the sun finally arrived in Cannes on Friday just in time to celebrate a glittering day for Arab filmmaking at the glitzy French festival. In the morning, the Iranian director Asghar Farhadi's terrific love triangle drama The Past, his follow-up to the award-winning A Separation, screened to rave reviews and prize-winning predictions. In the afternoon, a small army of Middle Eastern filmmakers, key industry players and global guests gathered at the UAE Pavilion perched on the edge of Cannes harbour directly behind the festival's main hub, the Palais.

The Pavilion is a joint venture between several bodies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, including the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Dubai International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Commission, Image Nation, twofour54, Dubai Film and TV Commission and Dubai Studio City. Friday’s informal meet-and-greet offered fun in the sun, but it was also designed to boost the UAE’s profile as a shooting location, production partner and rising force in world cinema. And where better to make a splash than at Europe’s biggest and most globally connected film festival?

“Of course Cannes is very good for us,” explained the Abu Dhabi Film Festival director Ali Al Jabri, a guest at the Pavilion gathering. “We have distribution people coming, we have receptions, meetings, small parties. We also have the programming team here; we make a schedule from day one and we try to see movies that would be good for us to show in our festival. We are looking for films to programme, the same as we do in Berlin, Venice and Toronto. We try to pick the flowers.”

Another party guest was Shivani Pandya, the managing director of the Dubai International Film Festival. “Cannes is extremely important because the industry comes down here from every-where,” she says. “You’ve got Europe, the US, Asia, Africa – every-body wants to be here, there’s a very strong market so you can meet everybody you want in one city. We are nurturing our relationships, we are looking at collaborations and we also support films here – such as Omar by Hany Abu Assad, that’s showing here in Cannes. It’s really a great opportunity to network, but also to look at films and see how we can take our own films further.”

Also at the UAE Pavilion was Federico Spoletti, the founder of Fred Film Radio, the multilingual digital radio service dedicated to covering film festivals. Just hours before, the company had unveiled its Arabic language channel.

Friday also saw the launch announcement for the forthcoming UAE production A to B from the Emirati director Ali F Mostafa, who previously made the 2009 award-winner City of Life. Described as a “heart-wrenching yet humorous road movie”, A to B follows three young Arab expats on an eventful three-day overland trek from Abu Dhabi to Beirut.

Working on this multinational project with Mostafa are the Egyptian writer and producer Mohamed Hefzy, whose credits include Tahrir 2011 and My Brother The Devil, the Lebanese producer Paul Baboudjian, who won awards with Here Comes the Rain and A World Not Ours, and the young Saudi Arabian producer Mohammed Al Turki, who co-produced the recent Richard Gere financial thriller Arbitrage.

Backed by twofour54 Abu Dhabi, A to B is set to begin its six-week shoot in late October with locations that include Abu Dhabi, Oman, Jordan and -Lebanon.

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