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Abu Dhabi: Festival Mandate Is to Nurture New Regional Pics

Film festivals in the Gulf are becoming Arab cinema’s main driver

With all the political upheavals in the Middle East, film festivals in the Gulf are becoming Arab cinema’s main driver.

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival spearheads this effort in several ways, besides being positioned at the start of the sweltering area’s fest season (Oct. 24-Nov. 2).

Abu Dhabi, now in its seventh edition, was the first fest in the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region to program Arab movies in competition alongside pics from the rest of the world, a key aspect of the fest’s vision that continues under current artistic director Ali Al Jabri, now in his second year.

The goal, Al Jabri says, is to provide the audience with the best Arab and international films from the first half of the year, making for a unique blend of titles. Abu Dhabi auds are a unique mix of Arabs and expats from around the globe, and the event is practically their only chance to see on a bigscreen films that aren’t either Hollywood or Bollywood blockbusters.

They will get some of this year’s standouts on the 2013 international fest circuit such as Danis Tanovic’s “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” and “Child’s Pose” by Calin Peter Netzer, which both bowed in Berlin; Jia Zhangke’s “Touch of Sin,” which launched at Cannes; and Venice Golden Lion winner “Sacro GRA,” by Gianfranco Rosi. These will unspool alongside Arab titles including “Giraffada” by France-born first-timer Rani Massalha, “Bastardo” by Tunisian helmer Nejib Belkadhi and “Rags and Tatters” by Egypt’s Ahmad Abdalla.

As Al Jabri proudly points out, Abu Dhabi is also the perfect platform to launch films funded by the fest’s fund, Sanad. This year, Iraqi-Kurdish helmer Hinet Saleem’s absurdist comedy “My Sweet Pepper Land,” which transposes cowboy movie tropes to a Kurdish context and screened in Un Certain Regard at Cannes; the world preems of  “In the Sands of Babylon,” by Iraqi-Dutch director Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji, and Egyptian social drama “Villa — 69,” a first narrative feature by Ayten Amin, are Sanad beneficiaries screening at the fest.

(Pictured: Jia Zhangke’s “A Touch of Sin” is one of the titles screening at Abu Dhabi.)

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