Now in its third year running, the Middle East International Film Festival is bringing to residents of Abu Dhabi and the rest of the UAE an opportunity for young UAE filmmakers to watch and learn from movies that are produced from all over the world.
“We hope to make this a festival of discovery, said MIEFF executive director Peter Scarlet said at a press conference Saturday.
A simple message for a welcome note perhaps, but the aim of MIEFF is more complex: to introduce great new movies to both audiences and potential filmmakers. By cultivating the appropriate climate for a film culture, a film industry in the UAE will eventually develop.
The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage established the film festival in 2007 to promote the UAE as an emerging cultural center in the region. Abu Dhabi has already started collaborating with Hollywood. The brainchild of the two, Robert Rodriguez’s children’s fantasy “Shorts (2009), premiered at the festival.
A Narrative Feature Competition, Documentary Feature Competition, Galas, World Cinema Showcase, Special Programs (presentations and seminars discussing various aspects of film making), and Short Film Competition categories encompassed 50 films. A special “New Cinema from Turkey fringe was also included.
The opening night gala featured the screening of Ahmed Maher’s debut feature “The Traveler starring Omar Sharif. The film, which received mixed reviews at the Venice Film Festival last month, was met with an equally lukewarm reaction in Abu Dhabi.
Of the sixteen jurors selected for the different jury committees, four are Egyptian and two are young actresses. Tunisian actress Hend Sabry is part of the Documentary Feature Competition jury, while Menna Shalabi is part of the Short Film Competition jury. “Young people have been selected to be on the jury due to the predominantly young moviegoers in the region, explained Scarlet, who was criticized for favoring young performers with little experience over film critics who were not selected on any of the juries.
Besides the “The Traveler, four Egyptians participate in this year’s edition: “Osama Fawzi’s “True Colors, Ahmad Abdalla’s “Heliopolis, Nabiha Lotfy’s “Carioca and Tahani Rashed’s “Neighbors.
Several Hollywood stars also made an appearance this year, including two-time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank, Demi Moore and “Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto. Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts will also be arriving on Friday for a discussion about her career. The festival concludes on Saturday.
Shorts (USA, UAE)
The first collaborative production between Imagenation Abu Dhabi and Warner Brothers, “Shorts is an 89-minute family film directed by “Desperado, “Spy Kids and “Sin City maker Robert Rodriguez.
The film centers on Tobie Thomspon, a child nerd who, with friends Loogie and Nose, struggle with the dangerous ramifications of finding a rainbow-striped stone that grants a person any wish.
The story starts by introducing Black Box Corporation that produces a tech gizmo that can physically rearrange itself to take on the form of any object one desires. The corporation owner, Mr. Black (James Spader) is an intimidating yet comic character who terrifies Tobie’s family and the rest of his town.
The narrative is arranged in a series of episodes through which we are told the story of how the wish stone came to be. Although the humor is on the sophomoric side for the average adult, keeping up with the film’s constant back and forth jumping from the different series of events proved to be slightly challenging.
The biggest disappointment were the computer graphics, as some moments appeared to be slightly crude.
A 30-minute short animation by Palestinian filmmaker Ahmad Habash, “Fatenah is based on the real life story of a young Palestinian woman living in Gaza who seeks medical treatment for breast cancer in Israel. The film is beautifully conceived, offering a thorough look at the struggle of both the defenseless Palestinian people and the Israelis who are not all murderous villains.
As part of MIEFF’s Short Film Program highlighting the theme of Emotion (“What moves us deeply can also bring us closer together, ) “Fatenah shows the range of attitudes and behaviors Israelis display towards Palestinians.
The titular character, Fatenah, discovers her breast cancer in the midst of a romance. Living with her father and sister, Fatenah is initially represented as the more optimistic and hopeful sister. The discovery of her cancer and her determined spirit to seek medical treatment takes viewers through her emotional denouement and fate.
Following the unsuccessful initial treatment in Gaza, Fatenah decides to seek treatment in Israel, exposing herself to humiliation and degradation by Israeli soldiers on the borders, whose pitiless attitude blatantly points to the cruelty and disrespect they have for Palestinians.
On the other hand, the Israeli healthcare worker who is assisting Fatenah to gather travel permits proves that not all Israelis are the same. The message of the film is neither naive nor shallow; ultimately, it’s the lighthearted depiction of the character that makes the film so emotionally engaging.
SPRING ’89 (Egypt):
Young filmmaker Ayten Amin tackles friendship and deceit in this bildungsroman of two young female classmates who vie for the attention of a handsome young man.
Initially the love interest of Sarah (Salma Said), the character of Camelia (Fatma Adel) steals a wallet which contains a photo of Sarah’s object of affection. Sarah’s hurt and anxiety evokes Camelia’s pity; she tries to redeem herself morally with gifts she gives Sarah.
As they get closer, Camelia becomes fascinated by Sarah’s stories about her relationship with this young man. But after both Sarah and Camelia recognize he has lost interest in both of them, the girls struggle with coming to terms with the fickle nature of young love.
“Spring ’89 is a beautiful work for its restrained rendition of teenage angst. Amin doesn’t succumb to the temptation of meldodrama; on the contrary, she has managed to balance both humor and the over-sentimentality that is so particular to young girls.