The Abu Dhabi Film Festival has been shockingly scrapped after eight editions during which the event gradually earned a significant spot on the international festival circuit.
The good news is that the fest’s Sanad film fund for Arab films in development and post is still in place and hopefully will remain so going forward.
“In a refocusing of its film activities to reflect the rapid growth in the region, Media Zone Authority has announced that the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) is being brought to a close in order to focus on future targeted initiatives to further support local and Arab filmmakers and attract more film productions to Abu Dhabi,” the fest said in a terse statement.
The statement described the move as “the next phase” in growing Abu Dhabi’s “maturing film industry.”
A further announcement is expected soon explaining what that “next phase” will entail.
The statement also said that the Abu Dhabi Media Zone anticipates injecting over AED 400 million ($108.8 million) into the UAE economy through direct spending in the country on film and television production and jobs creation.
Sources say Abu Dhabi’s government-funded Media Zone will introduce a hefty film fund to attract more international productions to Abu Dhabi, which recently lured shoots of the latest “Fast & Furious” and “Star Wars” installments through their 30 percent cash-back rebate. Sanad looks likely to also be beefed up.
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The Middle East’s festival landscape has been in flux in recent years with Doha ending its Doha/Tribeca fest to focus on local productions with its new Qumra event, which blends creative workshop, industry networking, and festival elements, and Dubai downsizing its market component and zeroing in on local distribution woes for Arab pics by forging a deal with some of the region’s top distributors.
The absence of Abu Dhabi on the Arab film fest calendar is likely to become a blow for Arab producers and will strengthen the roles as Arab cinema drivers of the Dubai fest and also of the Cairo Film Festival which is being relaunched.
But those two events may not be enough to nurture and showcase fresh Arab fare coming to the fore.
“It’s going to have an impact for us,” said prominent Egyptian producer Mohamed Hefzy, an Abu Dhabi fest aficionado and co-producer of Emirati director Ali F. Mostafa’s road movie “From A to B,” which opened Abu Dhabi last year.
“Festival growth in the region is in reverse at a time when there are more Arab films being made,” he noted.
“Something felt special about the programming at Abu Dhabi. Those people will really be missed; they really had the best selection” Hefzy lamented.
“It’s all about priorities, and film is just not a priority in the Arab world,” said film analyst Alaa Karkouti, CEO of Cairo and Abu Dhabi-based film distribution and marketing outfit MAD Solutions.
“There have been endless changes on the Arab festivals funds and markets scenario and this instability takes it’s toll; Abu Dhabi was a strong platform, and now, all of a sudden, it’s gone.”