Once upon a time in Abu Dhabi

Antonio Banderas, the Hollywood film star, stresses his "tremendous respect" for Muslims and the Arab world.

Antonio Banderas, the Hollywood film star, wraps up a three-night series of master classes at The Circle Conference at Shangri-La hotel in Abu Dhabi last night.
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ABU DHABI // Stressing his "tremendous respect" for Muslims and the Arab world, the actor Antonio Banderas told budding film-makers here last night that they needed to help address prejudices in the media. "First, it is a social and political issue. Once we understand that we can come together and live in peace and tolerance, it becomes about art, about telling stories," he said while giving a masterclass last night at the 2008 Circle Conference at the Shangri-La hotel.

Banderas, 48, said being born in an Andalusian town in southern Spain across from Morocco steeped in Moorish culture had a lasting impact on him. "The Arabs were in Spain for eight centuries, and that is a part of me," he said to the audience of film students and film industry professionals from all around the Middle East and North Africa, including Jordan, Syria, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories, Iran and Iraq.

Banderas, who has starred in such high-profile Hollywood films as Desperado, Interview with the Vampire, Philadelphia and The Mask of Zorro, added that he was now working on a historical film that he hoped would illustrate the West's debt to Arab culture. He is also expected to attend the Middle East International Film Festival which opens on Friday. After wrapping up his discussion, Banderas awarded the Sasha Grant, a US$100,000 (Dh367,000) screenwriting prize endowed by conference organisers The Circle, to Hicham Ayouch, a 32-year-old Moroccan, to help him produce his film Sambo do Maazooz.

Other keynote speakers at the conference have included James Gianopoulos, the chief executive officer and chairman of 20th Century Fox Films. The Circle Conference, which opened on Monday and runs until Saturday, is a yearly event showcasing regional film industry talent. It is organised by The Circle, an initiative established by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage. mmetallidis@thenational.ae