Stars light up festival finale

Hollywood celebrities and stars of the Arab world attend the grand finale of the Middle East International Film Festival.

The Palestinian director Rashid Mashharawi, left, accepts the Black Pearl award for Best Screenwriting. He is standing with British actor Joseph Fiennes, centre, and the French actress Eva Green.
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ABU DHABI // Hollywood celebrities and stars of the Arab world attended the grand finale of the Middle East International Film Festival last night. Eva Green, who starred as Vesper Lynd in the 2006 James Bond film Casino Royale, was flown in to compère the Festival's closing night awards ceremony. The French actress wore a floor-length bright green and gold embroidered Indian-style dress with red high heels and matching lipstick.

Joining her was British actor Joseph Fiennes, star of Shakespeare in Love, who has been in the Middle East to promote his latest film, Spring 41, directed by Uri Barbash, the Israeli film-maker. Fiennes plays a Jewish doctor who tries to escape the Nazis in 1940s Poland. The two stars presented more than US$1 million (Dh3.6m) in prize money to 16 winners in the Black Pearl awards at the ceremony.

Ilham Shaheen, the Egyptian actress, was named best actress for her leading role in Magdi Ahmad Ali's Fawzia: A Special Blend. She was awarded US$75,000 in prize money. Luca Zingaretti, an Italian, also won US$75,000 when he was named best actor for his role in Marco Tullio Giordana's Wild Blood. The Palestinian movie Laila's Birthday by screenwriter Rashid Mashawari was awarded Best Artistic Contribution, also winning the writer US$75,000.

Arab stars at the event included Serine Abdel Noor, the Lebanese actress, Yousra, the Egyptian actress, and Ahmed el Jasmi and Samira Ahmed, the Emirati actors. Feinnes said: "The film festival is testament to the great passion and belief in film [in Abu Dhabi]. "Abu Dhabi has come a long way in such a short time but I think this will eventually become one of the greatest film festivals in the world. Everyone in the room tonight at the awards should be hugely proud to be here."

The special jury prize, worth US$125,000, went to a documentary about Youssou N'Dour, the Senegalese singer, titled I Bring What I Love. Disgrace, starring John Malkovich, won the best narrative film winning US$200,000. The audience's choice award went to Saving Luna, by co-directors Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit, which focused on a young, estranged Orca whale. The UAE's only feature film to appear in competition at the festival, Henna, did not win but received plaudits at its Middle East premiere. It told the story of a single mother's battle with epilepsy during the pre-oil era, as seen through her child's eyes.

The UAE's environment documentary, The Arabian Oryx: Freed Spirit of The Desert, missed out on an award but received great praise. It followed the story of an oryx breeding programme established by the founder of the nation, the late Sheikh Zayed. The awards capped a remarkable 10 days with nearly 24,000 people from around the world passing through the doors of the Emirates Palace hotel and cinemas in Abu Dhabi for the festival's 186 screenings. The figure was 70 per cent up on the previous year. Films ranging from comedy to war movies, documentaries to love stories, pulled in audiences in the thousands.

Hollywood actors including Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith, Jane Fonda and Susan Sarandon attended. Meg Ryan flew in at the last minute to introduce the opening ceremony to a packed auditorium at Emirates Palace hotel. From the Arab world, films including Laila's Birthday, Beirut: Open City, Seven Blind Film-makers and Hasiba all received critical acclaim. Bollywood stars and film-makers also made their mark on the festival. Shweta Kumar was just one of India's leading actresses to join the premiere of Karzzzz, a remake of the Bollywood movie, Karz, which in turn was inspired by the 1975 Hollywood film, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.