The 7th Abu Dhabi Film Festival kicked off Thursday with U.S. helmer Daniel Schechter’s “Life of Crime” getting a star-studded Middle East launch while also testifying to the cinematic ties between Hollywood, India, Abu Dhabi and, by extension, East and West.
Forest Whitaker, being honored this year, strutted down the truly regal Emirates Palace red carpet, upping the glam quotient along with lots of Arab talent including Tunisian actress Hend Sabri (“The Yacoubian Building”); Jordanian multihyphenate Eyad Nassar; Syrian actress Kinda Aloush; and Palestinian actress Manal Khader (“Divine Intervention”).
After Whitaker chanted briefly in Arabic upon receiving his Black Pearl Career Achievement award, Schechter and “Crime” actor Mark Boone took the stage with producer Ashok Amritraj and Michael Garin, topper of Abu Dhabi-based Image Nation which co-produced the Elmore Leonard adaptation.
Amritraj will be holding a masterclass about his inspirational career path from his roots in Chennai, India, to being a tennis pro on the international circuit, and now a prominent Hollywood player with his Hyde Park Entertainment banner.
Whitaker is one of two talents being honored this year, the other being Palestinian actress and director Hiam Abbas, who is also on the main jury.
Abbas, who starred in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” Thomas McCarthy’s “The Visitor,” and Eran Riklis’ “Lemon Tree,” among other films, made her directorial debut in 2012 with Palestinian frontier zone family saga “Inheritance.” The latest pic in which she stars is Ghazi Albuliwi’s “Peace After Marriage,” which will world preem in Abu Dhabi’s Showcase section.
Providing additional star power is this year’s jury prexy Australian actress Jacki Weaver (“Animal Kingdom,” “The Silver Linings Playbook”).
Toronto fest co-topper Cameron Bailey heads the documentary competition which seems especially strong.
Abu Dhabi’s seventh edition is the second headed by Ali Al Jabri who called the lineup a “stimulating mix of the best of international and Arab cinema.”
Arab world preems in the narrative feature competition include “In the Sands of Babylon,” by Iraqi-Dutch director Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji.
Egyptian social drama “Villa – 69,” a first narrative feature by Ayten Amin who co-directed docu “Tahrir 2011: the Good, the Bad and the Politician,” will bow in the fest’s New Horizons section. These works are supported by Abu Dhabi’s film fund Sanad, which means “support” in Arabic.
Among this year’s standouts on the international fest circuit getting their Mid-East launches are Danis Tanovich’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.
Merzak Allouache, who is considered Algeria’s most important living director, will be honored on October 29 with the Variety Middle East Filmmaker of the Year award. His latest film, “The Rooftops,” a depiction of contempo Algerian society viewed from rooftops in five different Algiers neighborhoods, screens Friday.
Fest runs through November 2.