Venice Film Festival: Arab Fest Preview

As region booms, these events are becoming essential stops on the global fest schedule.

ABU DHABI
Oct. 13-22
This year, Abu Dhabi commemorates the centenary of Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, who in addition to being his country’s most renowned author, wrote more than 25 original screenplays for helmers such as Youssef Chahine, Salah Abouseif and Tawfik Saleh, while in the 1990s, two of his novels were adapted by Mexican directors Arturo Ripstein (“The Beginning and the End”) and Jorge Fons (“Midaq Alley”). Expect most of his filmography to screen. Meanwhile, the fest’s expansion into the production sector continues with the second year of the Sanad fund for filmmakers from the Arab world. This time, 11 feature-length narrative and documentary films, including projects from such filmmakers as Jocelyne Saab of Lebanon and Mauritania’s Abderrahmane Sissako, have been selected to share the $500,000 pool of development and post-production funding.

BEIRUT
Oct. 5-13
In addition to its usual competition strands honoring Middle Eastern features and shorts, and an Intl. Panorama section featuring such arthouse heavyweights as Terrence Malick, Pedro Almodovar, Gus Van Sant and Philippe Garrel, this year’s Beirut fest sees the introduction of a section dedicated to children-centric filmmaking and the return of the Culinary Cinema section, introduced in 2010. There’s also a five-film retrospective devoted to Finnish multi-hyphenate Aki Kaurismaki, and a special tribute to the late Syrian helmer Omar Amiralay.

CAIRO
Nov. 29 – Dec.8
Despite early reports that the event would be canceled this year in light of Egypt’s recent political instability, organizers announced at Cannes (where Egypt was the subject of a special national focus) that the show would in fact go on, albeit with a new look and agenda. Says Soheir Abdel Kader, the fest’s VP: “We want to be part of these important events, and to do so we are going through a reborn stage.” At 35 years, the event is the oldest in the region, but has lately found itself overshadowed by newer, conspicuously better-funded events in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Details of its reinvention remain vague at this stage, but there’s no doubting the will of its organizers.

CARTHAGE
biennial event, Carthage will unspool again in 2012 in Tunisia. Last year’s edition opened with Chad filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “A Screaming Man” and featured 49 films from 17 countries, alongside tributes to the late African thesp Sotigui Kouyate, French helmer Rachid Bouchareb, and Palestinean actress Hiam Abbas, among others — plus master classes from Belgian multi-hyphenate Jaco Van Dormael and Egypt’s Yousry Nasrallah.

DOHA TRIBECA
Oct. 25-29
The third edition of Tribeca’s Middle Eastern venture sees it taking small but deliberate steps in the direction of more established neighborhood rivals like Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The selection remains bijou — just 40 films from around the world — though there are various competition sections, including Arab film, Arab filmmaker and audience awards for narrative feature and documentary, as well as a program of networking events, industry panels and a family day. Among the highlights, the world preem of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s latest, “Black Gold.” The first major international co-production for the Doha Film Institute and Qatar, it’s an Arabian epic starring Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, Tahar Rahim and Mark Strong.

DUBAI
Dec. 7-14
Now in its eighth year, Dubai continues to dazzle. On one hand, auds can look forward to a broad array of screenings and masterclasses, with sections including Arabian Nights, a Celebration of Indian Cinema, Cinema for Children, Gulf Voices and a special focus, for 2011, on new German films. Meanwhile, the Muhr competition for Arab, Asia-Africa and Emirati cinema — boasts a prize pot of more than $575,000. But equally noteworthy is the fest’s industry side, with components dedicated to every stage of the filmmaking process, from talent development (the Interchange initiative) and co-production (the Dubai Film Connection, with 18 features completed to date and, from this year, a new focus on documentary funding, via a collaboration with the Copenhagen Intl. Documentary Film Festival), to post-production funding (Enjaaz) and sales and distribution (Dubai Film Mart).

MARRAKECH
Dec. 2-10
With a reputation as one of the most picturesque of all Middle East film festivals, Marrakech has benefited from the consistent support of Morocco’s King Mohammed, who continues to serve as the event’s president. While details of this year’s event remain closely guarded, its previous edition — marking its 10th anniversary — saw an extensive tribute to French cinema (unsurprising, given both the country’s long relationship with Gaul and the fact that Melita Toscan du Plantier, widow of producer and onetime Gaumont prexy Daniel Toscan du Plantier, serves as festival director), as well as tributes to Harvey Keitel, Akira Kurosawa and James Caan, as well as master classes by the Dardenne brothers and Francis Ford Coppola.

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