CAIRO: Ahmed Maher’s much hyped debut feature “Al-Musaafer (The Traveler) will open Abu Dhabi’s Middle East International Festival, which runs from Oct. 8-17.
Starring Egyptian screen legend Omar Sharif, “The Traveler had its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival last week. The first film produced by the Ministry of Culture in more than 30 years, it has drawn mixed reviews by the Egyptian and the international press.
The film is scheduled to open in Egypt next month.
Thirty-three narrative and documentary features will compete for the Black Pearl Awards in the Emirati capital worth over $1 million.
“The Traveler will be joined by four other Egyptian films. In the narrative section Osama Fawzi’s “True Colors, his first film since his 2004’s highly acclaimed “Baheb El-Cima (I Love Cinema), will have its world premiere, while Ahmad Abdalla’s independent debut feature “Heliopolis, starring Khaled Abol Naga and Hani Adel, will have its Middle East premiere.
In the documentary section, Nabiha Lotfy’s “Carioca will compete with veteran documentary filmmaker Tahani Rashed’s new feature “Neighbors, the follow-up to 2006’s multi award-winner “El-Banat Dol (These Girls).
Besides “True Colors, the festival will host one other narrative world premiere: Mohamed Al-Daradji’s Iraqi production “Son of Babylon. Al-Daradji is better known for his 2005 hit “Ahlaam. The feature narrative debut of “Water’s producer Dilip Mehta’s “Cooking with Stella will get its international premiere.
Receiving their Middle East premieres are Claire Denis’ colonial drama “White Material (France) starring Isabelle Huppert; Bahman Ghobadi’s 2009 Cannes’ Un Certain Regard winner “No One Knows About Persian Cats (Iran) and Tian Zhuang-Zhuang’s “The Warrior and the Wolf (China). Other Middle East premieres include Elia Suleiman’s 2009 Palme d Or nominee “The Time That Remains (Palestine-UK-Italy-Belgium-France); Valery Todorovsky’s period musical hit “Hipsters, “King Farouk’s director Hatem Ali’s “The Long Night (Syria); Rigoberto Perezcano’s “Northless (Mexico); and Fernandez Almendras’ “Huacho (Chile-France-Germany).
In the documentary strand, Louie Psihoyos’ Sundance hit “The Cove (USA) about the murder of dolphins in Japan will receive its Middle East premiere alongside Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’ ‘Disaster Capitalism’ study “The Shock Doctrine (UK).
Other documentary world premieres include Mohamed Zran’s “Being Here (Tunisia), Karnal Aljafari’s “Port Of Memory (Palestine/UAE), and Maher Abi Samra’s “We Were Communists (Lebanon-France). Middle East premiers in the same section include Johan Grimonprez’s “Double Take (Netherlands-Belgium); TC McLuhan’s “The Frontier Gandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch for Peace (Afghanistan-India-Pakistan); Boris Mitic’s “Goodbye, How Are You (Serbia); and Michael Ballhaus (Oscar DOP nominee of “Goodfellas and “The Departed ) and Ciro Cappellari’s “In Berlin (Germany).
In a press statement, Peter Scarlet, the festival’s new executive director, said “a film festival’s competition selections are the heart of its program, and we’re extremely proud to have assembled such a strong slate, especially with half these competing titles coming from the Middle East and North Africa, and the filmmakers who made them having an opportunity to have their work judged alongside work from the rest of the world.
“It’s also extremely encouraging that 11 films in each of these competitions are by filmmakers making their first or second work.
Scarlet is the former artistic director of the New York-based Tribeca Film Festival. He resigned from his post last February, 10 days after former Sundance director Geoff Gilmore was appointed Chief Creative Officer for the Sundance enterprise. A longtime supporter of Egyptian and Arab films, Scarlet has previously participated in the Cairo International Film Festival as a jury member of one of the competitions’ sections.