3rd Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) (October 8-17, 2009)
From New York to Abu Dhabi
by Ali Nour-Mousavi
Abu Dhabi is determined to go the distance. When it comes to sports, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates has invested more than 20 billion dollars in buying Manchester City Club, which plays in UK premier league, Grand Prix rallies, and the World Cup. On the cultural front, Abu Dhabi is opening branches of Louvre and Guggenheim museums.
It seems that there is a special relationship between Abu Dhabi and New York. First, a branch of the University of New York was inaugurated there followed by a branch of New York Film Academy. During the current year, Peter Scarlet, the former director of Tribeca Film Festival of New York was put in charge of Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi. The presence of such an experienced manager raised expectations. Peter Scarlet, however, took part in a press conference saying that expectations should not be too high because he has been in the post just for four months and promised to unravel the full capacity of the festival in 2010. Anyway, his presence has also led to considerable changes in this year’s festival. His first step was to get Abbas Kiarostami accept to be the president of the narrative jury. In order to catch up, Qatar has also launched its own Doha Tribeca Film Festival!
Like previous editions, opening and closing ceremonies and some special programs of the festival were held at the Emirates Palace Hotel, which has been built at the cost of 3 billion dollars and is one kilometer across. A major step taken by Scarlet was to make the festival more popular by screening most festival’s films at movie theaters which were located at shopping malls and were more accessible to the public instead of Emirates Palace Hotel. Therefore, the number of viewers had grown 300 percent compared to the past edition. A feature of this year’s edition was to erect a big tent at the main terrace Emirates Palace Hotel where all people could roam. In daytime, there were meetings with music experts from across the word at the tent and when night fell, musical pieces were played there. A conversation was held under the same tent with the famous Australian star, Naomi Watts. She noted that her success was owed to the renowned American directors, David Lynch, who cast her in his remarkable film, Mulholland Drive. One of the participants asked her to perform one of the famous scenes of the film at the tents, but his request was rejected by a smiling Watts.
The festival opened with the Egyptian movie, The Traveler, which cast Omar Sharif. He was supposed to attend the opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi, but did not show up. It was rumored that he was not satisfied with the film and that is why he was absent. To make the festival more appealing, its officials had invited a number of Hollywood stars including Demi Moore, Hillary Swank and Dennis Haysbert and even Freids Pinto, the Indian actor of Slumdog Millionaire, who had later appeared in the latest movie of Woody Allen.
Black Pearl was the name assigned to festival awards by its officials. A Black Pearl was to be given to the seasoned British actress, Vanessa Redgrave, for a lifetime of achievements and her support for the Palestinian people. Since she could not make it to the festival, her husband and famous Italian actor, Franco Nero, received the award in her lieu. Another honorary award of the festival for the Middle Eastern filmmaker of the year was given by Variety magazine to the prominent Palestinian director, Elia Suleiman, through a short and informal ceremony.
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