ABU DHABI // Filmmakers will have more opportunities to gain international exposure and forge career-changing contacts at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival next month, organisers said yesterday. This year, the regional Emirates Competition falls under the festival's umbrella, a move that will boost networking possibilities, said Peter Scarlet, the festival's director. "The festival is all about meetings on every level," he said. "Not just in the formal sense, but those chance encounters and unexpected connections.
"In previous years, the Emirates film competition has been separate from the main event. This year, it is all taking place under the same tent so filmmakers from all over the GCC will have better opportunities to meet globally respected filmmakers." The full short list for the competition was revealed yesterday at the Abu Dhabi Theatre on the breakwater, which was also revealed as the competition's new screening venue.
The competition, which has been running since 2001 to foster Emirati and GCC filmmaking, with a focus on the region's culture and history, will present 16 of the festival's Black Pearl Awards. Ali al Jabri, the head of the competition, said he had received 134 submissions this year that had been whittled down to 47 in the narrative, documentary and student categories. Mr al Jabri also predicted the new partnership with the festival would have "a lot of fruitful results". "This is the chance for the spotlight to be put on Emirati filmmakers," he said. "They will see actors, critics and industry insiders who they have not seen before."
Ahmad Zain, who has been writing films for more 10 years, said his technique had improved along with his entries to the festival. His films Gheamt Shroog, a short narrative about a group of boys who skip a day of school, and Father Grant, a documentary about an elderly woman who refuses to leave her farm in the Al Ain desert because it was a gift from Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, are both on the competition's short list and eligible for prize money of up to Dh35,000.
Mr Zain said the festival has helped move Emirati cinema forward. This year's event runs from October 14 to 23. "The competition and the festival helps us a lot to know about cinema," he said. "There are many benefits. Last year, for example, I met many directors from Egypt and Syria and we talked a lot about Arab filmmaking. I also met Europeans who helped me understand the foreign film market. It was very useful."
Mr Zain's film Seashells won the jury prize for Best Short Film at the 2008 competition and was shown at Cannes last year. He said such international exposure was invaluable. "It is very important for us because we want to make cinema here in the UAE and we are constantly improving. We have many films already and more to come. I'm sure in 10 years' time, we will be regularly making feature films as popular as City of Life."
Also revealed yesterday was the short list for the Short Film Competition, which offers US$120,000 (Dh440,790) prize money across seven Black Pearl awards. A regular part of the festival since 2008, the short film competition accepts entries from all over the world, including students. One-quarter of the selected films are from the Middle East and 14 from women filmmakers. Alice Kharoubi, the programme's director, selected 44 submissions from 1,200 entries in 25 countries. One of the most notable entries was The Second Bakery Attack, based on a short story by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami, directed by Carlos Cuarón and starring Kirsten Dunst.
She also pointed to Le Rodba, a comedy that is the first film by the French Tunisian actress-turned-director Hafsia Herzi, as one not to miss. Eissa Saif al Mazrouei, the festival's project director, said the main objective of including the Emirates Competition into the main festival was to support Emirati youth in as many ways possible. "We believe this is the best way to create motives and incentives for young and aspiring mentors in this country," he said. "We hope to continue to encourage and inspire them."