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Abu Dhabi's Film Festival Announces its Narrative & Documentary Feature Selections

Egypt's The Traveler (Al Mosafer) with Omar Sharif to screen as Opening Night Gala


The Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) today unveiled the lineup of the feature-length narratives and documentaries that will compete for Black Pearl Awards worth over $1 million during the upcoming Festival. Presented by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, this year's MEIFF will run from October 8 to 17.

Peter Scarlet, the festival's new Executive Director commented, "A film festival's competition selections are the heart of its program, and we're extremely proud to have assembled such a strong slate, especially with half these competing titles coming from the Middle East and North Africa, and the filmmakers who made them having an opportunity to have their work judged alongside work from the rest of the world. It's also extremely encouraging that eleven films in each of these competitions are by filmmakers making their first or second work."

The festival's selections were made by Scarlet, Teresa Cavina, Kellen Quinn, Rasha Salti and Intishal al-Timimi, supported by a group of international program consultants.

MEIFF'S Narrative Feature Competition comprises 18 films, including two World Premieres, SON OF BABYLON (Ibn Babil) by Mohamed Al-Daradji (Iraq) and TRUE COLORS (Bil Awan Al Tabiyya) by Oussama Fawzi (Egypt), and one International Premiere (screening for the first time outside its country of production), COOKING WITH STELLA by Dilip Mehta (Canada).

Another film in the narrative competition, THE TRAVELER (Al Mosafer), a debut film written and directed by Ahmed Maher, and starring Omar Sharif, Khaled El Nabawy and Lebanese singing star Celine Abdel Nour in her first major film role, will be screened as the Opening Night Gala.
Most of the fourteen other titles screening in the Narrative Feature Competition are being shown for the first time in the Middle East. A complete list of all films in this section follows:

NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION

10 to 11
(11'E 10 Kala) by Pelin Esmer, Turkey/France/Germany 2009, 110 mins, with Nejat İşler, Mithat Esmer  (GULF PREMIERE)
The filmmaker relates the story of her uncle Mithat, focusing particularly on his passion for collecting memories from the randomness of daily details. Sustaining his passion, however, gets harder once his deteriorating health begins to trouble him and impede his efforts. Finally, he is forced to pass his errands on to his doorman, Ali, who resorts to a different path.

BOMBAY SUMMER by Joseph Mathew-Varghese, USA 2009, 105 mins, with Tannishtha Chatterjee, Jatin Goswami  (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
A confident career woman (Tannishtha Chatterjee of Brick Lane) is attracted to a handsome painter (Jatin Goswami) tangled up in the criminal underworld.  Joseph Mathew-Varghese's feature debut navigates the social turbulence of Mumbai in the throes of modernization.

BURIED SECRETS (La Berceuse) by Raja Amari, Tunisia/ France/ Switzerland 2009, 91 mins, with Hafsia Herzi, Sondos Belhassen (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
Three tradition-bound women haunt an isolated estate - and its modern new owners - in this atmospheric Tunisian thriller, equal parts family psychodrama, coming-of-age melodrama, and gothic horror tale. Rising star Hafsia Herzi (The Secret of the Grain) joins a stunning cast of actresses in this parable of traditional values, contemporary mores, and awakening desire.
 
COOKING WITH STELLA by Dilip Mehta, Canada 2009, 103 mins, with Don McKellar, Seema Biswas (INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE)  
Two Canadian diplomats in New Delhi discover their cook is skimming more than just the milk in this deliciously wry battle between servants and served, co-scripted by Fire's Deepa Mehta with her brother Dilip (in his directorial debut). A comical concoction of Indian cuisine, cooking, and master/servant relationships.
  
HELIOPOLIS - NEW EGYPT (Heliopolis- Misr Al Jedida) by Ahmad Abdalla, Egypt 2008, 92 mins, with Khaled Abol Naga, Hany Adel  (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)  
It is sunset in Heliopolis, a unique Cairo neighborhood whose glamorous past is fading with every day. Tonight we wander with five characters, each wrestling with a conundrum, who will spend the evening obliviously crisscrossing paths. Ahmed Abdallah's first feature is a bold herald of Egypt's rising generation of independent filmmakers, and a labor of love from crew and cast, including Khaled Abol-Naga, one of Egypt's leading male stars.
  
HIPSTERS (Stilyagi) by Valery Todorovsky, Russia 2008, 125 mins, with Anton Shagin, Oksana Akinshina (Lilya 4-Ever and The Bourne Supremacy) (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
In this colorful musical set in an oppressive 1950s Soviet Union, teenagers embrace American culture as a form of resistance. When straight-laced Mels meets anti-establishment Polly, he is unable to resist her kaleidoscopic world of fashion, jazz music, and swing dancing. Romantic, cool, and sexy, Hipsters is a toe-tapping ode to the timeless themes of love and freedom.
 
HUACHO by Alejandro Fernandez Almendras, Chile/France/Germany 2009, 90 mins, with Clemira Aguayo, Manuel Hernandez (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
Naturalism rarely looks as beautiful onscreen as in this sun-kissed tale of a rural family's daily reality, ranging from farmland to tourist traps, fields to schoolyards. Keenly attuned to the rhythms of work and the unspoken poetry of day-to-day life, Huacho is a major new work of Chilean cinema.
  
LAST RIDE by Glendyn Ivin, Australia 2009, 100 mins, with Hugo Weaving, Tom Russell  (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
Set against the natural beauty of the southern Australian countryside, this feature debut from Palme d'Or-winning short filmmaker Glendyn Ivin is a gritty and lyrical portrait of a criminal on the run (Hugo Weaving) and his 10-year-old son (a heartbreaking Tom Russell) who both loves and fears him.

THE LONG NIGHT (Al Lail altaweel) by Hatem Ali, Syria 2009, 94 mins, with Khaled Taja, Amal Arafah, Najah Safkouni, (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
Three long-term political prisoners are suddenly released - but why, and what awaits them? This elegant Syrian drama from controversial director Hatem Ali is a searing indictment of contemporary Syrian life and politics, yet universal in its intellectual, political, and moral fury. Winner, Best Film, Taormina Film Festival.
  
NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT PERSIAN CATS (Kasi Az Gorbehaye Irani Khabar Nadareh) by Bahman Ghobadi, Iran 2009, 106 mins, with Negar Shaghaghi, Ashkan Koshanejad (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
This daring look at the illegal world of Iran's independent music scene follows Negar and Ashkan, young musicians who find that pursuing their art is near-impossible on home soil and soon forge plans to escape. Gritty and fast-paced, Ghobadi's film paints a vivid portrait of a hidden Tehran.

NORTHLESS (Norteado) by Rigoberto Perezcano, Mexico 2009, 93 mins, with Harold Torres, Alicia Laguna  (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
Andres, a young man from Oaxaca, Mexico, tries, and fails, repeatedly to illegally cross the border into the United States. He gears up for one last attempt after befriending two women in Tijuana whose husbands successfully crossed. Focusing as much on the why as it does the how, Perezcano explores the often difficult relationships between those who stay and those who feel obligated to provide a better life for their families.

SON OF BABYLON
(Ibn Babil) by Mohamed Al-Daradji, Iraq/ UK/ France/ Palestine/ Netherlands/ UAE 2009, 90 mins, with Yasser Talib, Shazada Hussein (WORLD PREMIERE) A willful young boy and his just-as-obstinate grandmother journey across Iraq in search of their missing loved one, a former political prisoner. This stunning new work from the director of Ahlaam is a testament to Iraq's continuing search for justice and closure after Saddam Hussein's fall.
 
THE TIME THAT REMAINS (Al Zaman Al Baqi) by Elia Suleiman, Palestine/UK/Italy/Belgium/France 2009, 105 mins, with Ali Suliman, Elia Suleiman, Saleh Bakri (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, who won the Cannes Jury Prize for Divine Intervention in 2002, returns with a similarly immaculate, comically deadpan examination of life as an Israeli Arab in Nazareth from 1948 to today. A "bridge between Edward Said and Buster Keaton," Toronto Film Festival.
 
THE TRAVELER(Al Mosafer) by Ahmed Maher, Egypt 2009, 125 mins, with Omar Sharif, Cyrine Abdel Nour, Khaled El Nabawy, Amr Waked (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)

Despite being set against the backdrop of key moments in Egypt's recent history, The Traveler is about the personal, not the political. This enormously impressive debut is a moving meditation on a man's fumbling search for his identity, a search which comes to reflect that of his nation.
 
TRUE COLORS (Bin Alwan Al Tabiyya) by Oussama Fawzi, Egypt 2009, 135 mins, with Karim Qasem, Muna Hala, Saeed Saleh, Intisar, Farah Youssef, Yusra Al-Luzi (WORLD PREMIERE)
During four years at a Cairo art school, Youssef comes of age, as his aspirations to become an artist run up against the prevailing taboos about art in society, the sinister encroachment of religious conservatism in higher education, and the cynicism and defeatism with which his teachers respond to it. Without compromise or inhibition, this courageous film asks basic questions about the right and freedom to imagine in a society overrun by the moral high ground of religiosity.

THIRD PERSON SINGULAR NUMBER by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, Bangladesh 2009, 124 mins,
(GULF PREMIERE)
Must a single, independent woman always be treated as an outcast in Bangladeshi society? This is the question posed in Third Person Singular Number. A romantic drama that on the surface tells of a young woman torn between two lovers, it delicately addresses a complex cultural issue.

THE WARRIOR AND THE WOLF (Lang Zai Ji) by Tian Zhuang-Zhuang, China 2009, 100 mins, with Maggie Q, Jô Odagiri, Chung Hua Tou (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
A significant departure from the meditative films he is best known for, the latest work by the director of THE BLUE KITE is a richly emotional, magical tale about a brave soldier and a mysterious widow who has the power to take his mind to a place of legends. Visually thrilling and passionate, it's a deeply moving journey into China's past.

WHITE MATERIAL by Claire Denis, France 2009, 100 mins, with Isabelle Huppert, Christophe Lambert, Isaach De Bankole  (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)  
In an unnamed African country torn by civil war, a white woman (Isabelle Huppert) refuses to abandon her plantation, although French nationals are urged to flee. Director Claire Denis marshals beautiful but troubling images to explore the intensely emotional world of post-colonial Africa, whose allure is "a kind of drug, intoxicating yet perilous, that never leaves the system" (Variety).
 
 
Films in the Narrative Feature Competition are eligible for the following Black Pearl Awards:
 
·      Best Narrative Film ($100,000)

·      Best New Narrative Director ($50,000)

·      Best Middle Eastern Narrative Film ($100,000)

·      Best New Middle Eastern Narrative Director ($50,000)

·      Best Actor ($25,000)

·      Best Actress ($25,000)

 

 MEIFF's Documentary Feature Competition, includes 15 films, five of which are receiving their World Premieres: BEING HERE (Vivre Ici) by Mohamed Zran (Tunisia), CARIOCA by Nabiha Lotfy, (Egypt), NEIGHBORS (Geran) by Tahani Rashed (Egypt), PORT OF MEMORY (Minaa Elzakira) by Kamal Aljafari (Palestine) and WE WERE COMMUNISTS (Shyoaeen Kounna) by Maher Abi Samra (Lebanon/France). Another film ALL MY MOTHERS (Hamey-e Madaran-e Man) by Ebrahim Saeedi and Zahavi Sinjavi (Iraq/Iran) will be having its International Premiere.

Most of the nine other titles in the Documentary Feature Competition are being shown for the first time in the Middle East. A complete list of the documentary titles follows:
DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION
 

 1958
by Ghassan Salhab, Lebanon 2009, 66 mins (GULF PREMIERE)
1958 marks two events: the filmmaker's birth in Senegal and the beginning, in his parents' native country of Lebanon, of a serious internal conflict that will result in a long series of civil wars. The film 1958, then, is an intertwining of a private history with national histories that mixes themes covering exile, colonization, and Lebanese politics.
  
THE AGE OF STUPID by Franny Armstrong, UK 2009, 89 mins (GULF PREMIERE)
The year is 2055, and Earth has been ravaged by climate change. In once-frozen Antarctica, an archivist combs through a video library to determine why humankind failed to heed the warnings regarding global warming. Blending fact and fiction, The Age of Stupid is a cautionary documentary that aims to shatter complacency and encourage change before it is too late.
 
ALL MY MOTHERS (Hamey-e Madaran-e Man) by Ebrahim Saeedi and Zahavi Sanjavi, Iran/Iraq 2008, 60 mins (INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE)
Archival footage is combined with eyewitness accounts to detail Saddam Hussein's vicious campaign against Iraqi Kurds during the 30-year reign of the Baathist regime. The recent unearthing of mass graves and the existence of villages almost exclusively populated by women highlight just how efficient Hussein's campaign was.

BEING HERE (Vivre ici) by Mohamed Zran, Tunisia 2009, 124 mins (WORLD PREMIERE)
A hardware shop in southeast Tunisia is the unlikely arena for some pertinent political and philosophical discussions in Mohamed Zran's heartfelt tribute to conversation, philosophy, and peace. A teacher, an artist, a marriage-fixer, and others debate life, love, and politics in this smiling tribute to the true values of the Middle East.

CARIOCA by Nabiha Lotfy, Egypt 2009, 60 mins (WORLD PREMIERE)
A cinematic tribute to Tahia Carioca has been long overdue. Veteran documentary filmmaker Nabiha Lotfy takes up the challenge in this rare treat. Wrongly described as the Arab world's Marilyn Monroe, Carioca was not only a pioneering dancer and actress, she was also a rebel and a militant.

THE COVE by Louie Psihoyos, USA 2009, 93 mins (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)  
Flipper meets James Bond in this spectacular documentary thriller, a nonfiction work of investigative reporting filled with the stuff of spy films. Pre-dawn raids, hidden cameras, and secret-ops missions expose a Japanese village's secret dolphin slaughter and its ties to a national cover-up. Audience Award Winner, Sundance Film Festival.

DOUBLE TAKE by Johan Grimonprez, Netherlands/Belgium 2009, 80 mins (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)  
This diverting experimental documentary is a fascinating found-footage fabrication, an essay that envisions Alfred Hitchcock as an unwilling victim of the political and cultural shifts of the Cold War era. Comprised of newsreel footage, period television programs, and clips of the master and his films, Double Take playfully examines the catastrophe culture that invaded every American home in the 1950s.
  
THE FRONTIER GANDHI: BADSHAH KHAN, A TORCH FOR PEACE by T.C. McLuhan, Afghanistan/India/Pakistan/USA 2008, 92 mins, (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
The little-known story of nonviolent activist Badshah Khan, a Pashtun warrior who became Pakistan's answer to Mahatma Gandhi, is brought to life in this remarkable documentary, filmed across Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India, and featuring interviews with Hamid Karzai, Pervez Musharraf, and other key South Asian figures. Narrated by Indian acting legend Om Puri and with music by David Amram.

GOODBYE, HOW ARE YOU? (Dovidjenja, kako ste?)by Boris Mitić, Serbia 2009, 60 mins (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)  
The wittiest, blackest political aphorisms of the modern era are saluted in this entertaining Serbian travelogue detailing how citizens use language to critique - and resist - the madness of politics. A fascinating essay-film in the tradition of Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard, and a primer on Balkan intellectual thought, resistance, and history.
   
IN BERLIN by Michael Ballhaus and Ciro Cappellari, Germany 2009, 96 mins (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
The city of Berlin has gone through tremendous changes in the 20 years since the Berlin Wall fell, and it remains in a state of constant flux. Berlin-born cinematographer Michael Ballhaus (who shot many of Fassbinder and Scorsese's major films) joins forces with lenser Ciro Cappellari to create a poetic cinematic essay, a love letter to the vibrant metropolis and its inhabitants.

NEIGHBORS (Geran) by Tahani Rashed, Egypt 2009, 105 mins (WORLD PREMIERE)
The Cairo neighborhood known as Garden City, once a new outpost for the indigenous colonial elites, is now an isolated inlet detached from the teeming city. Masterfully avoiding cheap nostalgia, director Rashed travels from the opulent salons of the haves to the makeshift rooftop living rooms of the have-nots.
    
ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL (Iki Dil Bir Bavul) by Orhan Eskiköy and Özgür Doğan, Turkey 2008, 81 mins, (GULF PREMIERE)
An extraordinary film documenting the contradictions of modern Turkey and its historical debate on the Kurdish problem. The film chronicles the journey of a young, first-time Turkish-language teacher from the western part of the country who is sent to a remote Kurdish village in the southeast to be the sole teacher in the village school.
  
PORT OF MEMORY (Minaa Elzakira) by Kamal Aljafari, Palestine/UAE 2009, 63 mins (WORLD PREMIERE)
Radically poetic, Port of Memory is a reflection on the absurdity of being at once absent and present, blending the mundane gestures of everyday life and collective memory.  Traveling from the subjective to the objective, the film captures the essence of being Palestinian in Israel, as well as under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza.
THE SHOCK DOCTRINE by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, UK 2009, 78 mins. (MIDDLE EAST PREMIERE)
Michael Winterbottom (24-Hour Party People, The Road to Guantanamo) returns with his most intriguing provocation to date, an adaption of Naomi Klein's best seller, which argues that U.S. "disaster capitalism" promotes its free-market agenda on the back of disasters, whether natural or man-made. A challenging, powerful vision of the world economy today.
 
WE WERE COMMUNISTS (Shyoaeen Kounna) by Maher Abi Samra, Lebanon/France 2009, 90 mins.(WORLD PREMIERE)  
An introspective and retrospective reflection on the intersecting destinies of comrades once bound by ideals, We Were Communists examines the legacy of Lebanon's civil war and its post-war present. Artistically and politically audacious, Maher Abi Samra's incisive and tender film travels the chimeric and daunting reality of Lebanon's fractured post-war landscape.
 
Films in the Documentary Feature Competition are eligible for the following Black Pearl Awards:
·      Best Documentary Film ($100,000)

·      Best New Documentary Director ($50,000)

·      Best Middle Eastern Documentary Film ($100,000)

·      Best New Middle Eastern Documentary Director ($50,000)

 

*****

MEIFF will have screenings at Emirates Palace Hotel (Auditorium), Cinestar Cinemas at Marina Mall, and Grand Cinemas at Abu Dhabi Mall.  Additional festival events will take place at the MEIFF Festival Tent on the main terrace behind Emirates Palace Hotel.  The Festival Tent is open daily to the public throughout the festival from noon to 2am.
 
Tickets go on sale September 28, and can be purchased online at http://www.meiff.com/ or in person every day from noon to 10 pm at any of the four festival box offices.  Box offices are located at Emirates Palace Hotel at the main entrance lobby and on the auditorium level, Cinestar Cinemas at Marina Mall and Grand Cinemas at Abu Dhabi.

TICKET PRICES:  
General Screenings: AED 20
Gala Screenings at Emirates Palace Hotel: AED 30
Students and Seniors (65 and over): AED 10 (ID required)

Package of 10 vouchers: AED 150 (Vouchers are good for all screenings, except opening and closing night galas, which are by invitation only.)

Festival Pass: AED 200 (Good for all screenings, except opening and closing night galas, which are by invitation only.)


  *****

From October 9 to 11, Abu Dhabi Film Commission presents The Circle Conference 2009, a development initiative aimed at creating new filmmaking opportunities in the Middle East. The Circle Conference brings together top producers, financiers, executives and filmmakers from around the world.
The international entertainment community comes to Abu Dhabi to share their knowledge through events such as Panel Discussions, Master Classes, Collaboration Lunches and the Shasha Grant Pitch Competition.

The Circle Conference 2009 is presented in partnership with Imagenation Abu Dhabi.

The Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) was established in 2007 by the
Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH), which presents MEIFF
each October in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates.  MEIFF seeks to affirm the key place Abu Dhabi holds as an emerging cultural center and to foster the growth of its local film community.  It celebrates cinema in all its forms by creating a vibrant forum for storytellers from the Middle East and around the world.
 
The Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) is the institution in charge of conserving and promoting the heritage and culture of Abu Dhabi. Established in October 2005 as an authority of the Government of Abu Dhabi, it is administered by a board of directors chaired by H. E. Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun Al Nahyan.
 
 

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