4th Abu Dhabi Film Festival (October 14-23, 2010)
Farewell Middle East, Hello Abu Dhabi!
by Ali Nour-Mousavi

  This year, the audience expected much more from the festival compared to its past edition. Peter Scarlet, president of the festival who had only a few months to arrange last year’s event, had promised to do his best to make the next edition of the festival a magnificent occasion.
His first important measure was to change the name from “Middle East” to “Abu Dhabi” which was a more suitable name for the festival. More importantly, however, he turned the festival into a popular event. For example, he arranged Q&A sessions with big Hollywood stars like Julianne Moore, Uma Thurman and Adrien Brody and even Abbas Kiarostami under a tent which was open to the public. Films were screened at many theaters across the city a number of which was located at Marina Mall. Abu Dhabi Theater, which is a modern facility not usually used for more than a few performances per year, was also screening festival movies. The theater of the elegant Emirates Palace Hotel was also considered for special screenings as well as opening and closing ceremonies. The public could even attend spectacular opening and closing ceremonies, of course, after buying 700-dollar tickets! Interestingly enough, those tickets were sold out more rapidly than ordinary film tickets which were only worth 40 dollars.
It is not easy to challenge such established film festivals as Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and New York. Abu Dhabi lacks a history of cinema or even common culture, though the situation has changed since a few years ago when Louvre and Guggenheim museums opened branches in Abu Dhabi. The shortage has been somehow compensated through festival’s extravagant budget. Top films will win a collective sum of one million dollars which has no parallel in other international festivals. High budget and Scarlet’s friendly relations with many filmmakers enabled him to bring 270 filmmakers to Abu Dhabi, which is quite out of the ordinary except for such famous festivals as Cannes and Venice.

  The opening ceremony was less glamorous than last year. Clive Owen, Adrien Brody and some other western stars were there. Ja'far Pahani’s short film, Accordion, preceded the opening and was welcomed by viewers. Secretariat was the opening movie. Made by Randall Wallace for Disney, it was a good film for families which will be a main nominee for 2010 Oscar. It was a suitable choice for the opening ceremony because only 30 percent of viewers preferred the garden party of the hotel to watching the opening entry. Last year, however, 80-90 percent of viewers preferred to attend the party! After a few years, it has been proven that most people attending the opening ceremony are there to chat with guest stars and do not care much for the opening film. Therefore, commercial Hollywood movies are more suitable for the occasion.

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