Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s Legacy
The Abu Dhabi Film Festival was a big success with some good films that many people knew nothing about and better attendance spread over more screenings than ever before. However after six years, it’s my view that the festival should consider changing its emphasis.
The special thing about the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) is that it is being held in the Gulf. It isn’t Cannes, the biggest film festival in the world; it doesn’t have the prominence of Berlin or Toronto, for example, or the quirky value of Sundance. But it has what none of those much better-known older festivals do – and that is a location in the center of the Middle East at the intersection of Arabia, Africa, the Levant and the Subcontinent. Those are the areas that count for the UAE and Abu Dhabi in the broad Middle East North Africa South Asia (MENASA) region. Many of the countries in this region have developing film industries as does the UAE and especially Abu Dhabi now that it has concentrated film development under twofour54, the media zone.
While the organizers and sponsors may think it’s cool to have Richard Gere in Abu Dhabi for the Festival, I can only imagine how much it cost to bring star and entourage here. Perhaps director Nicholas Jarecki will indeed make a film in Abu Dhabi as a result, but his film Arbitrage that stars Gere shouldn’t, in my opinion, have been the choice to open ADFF.
Arbitrage like End of Watch and Great Expectations were shown at ADFF. They do not need ADFF –the first two were already being shown in theaters during the Festival. Don’t get me wrong, they are good films, but highlighting them at ADFF is at the expense of films made with smaller budgets that have little chance of being distributed around the world.
I would like to see ADFF focus entirely on films made locally and regionally. I would like to see the money spent on bringing over stars like Richard Gere going to boost funds available for production and post-production of films made in the Arab and Islamic world.
One of the most exciting parts of ADFF for me this year was seeing the ten films in the Emirates Narrative Competition. They were of varying quality, but they featured Emiratis as well as others who live in the UAE, illustrating aspects of life here today, not contemporary life in the US or life in Victorian England.
I didn’t entirely agree with the jury’s selection of winners in this competition, but all the films were worth seeing, and I look forward to more work from these local directors, giving further insights into life in the Gulf. As far as I know, none of them received funds from Image Nation whose mission it is to develop the film industry in Abu Dhabi.
It’s time for twofour54 , Image Nation, and whoever else is involved to start showing confidence in the actors and directors that are in the UAE already, be they Emiratis or expatriates.
By Dr Alma Kadragic, University Media Studies Professor and Author