By Oliver Andersson Hugemark/The Gazelle

ADFF Places Arab Cinema on World Stage

From the press briefing at Emirates Palace on Oct. 1, it was clear that the leadership of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival is determined to build on its ...

By Oliver Andersson Hugemark/The Gazelle
From the press briefing at Emirates Palace on Oct. 1, it was clear that the leadership of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival is determined to build on its legacy and continue to be a festival with integrity — driven not commercially, but rather by a passion for high quality cinema.
“Festivals like Cannes are constructed for their own audience and are more about money than film,” said Teresa Cavina, director of programming of ADFF. “ADFF focuses on good films in the selection process and not commercial interest. Film as a path to discussion and awareness is more our concept.”
It was clear that there is a strong incentive to continue to promote the development of the film industry in the Arab world. Not only is the festival a stimulant of public consciousness, but emerging filmmakers in the region can also use it as a stepping-stone to the international film industry.
“Last year the festival was like a fantastic restaurant, but this year it will be a fantastic roller coaster that will take you both up and down,” Cavina said when asked about the value ADFF can add to the UAE society.
Ali Al Jabri, the director of ADFF, said that some of the highlights of this year are the award-winning films from world-leading film festivals such as Cannes and Berlinale.
“This year we are glad to include in our programme some of the award-winning films from Berlinale: ‘An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker’ by Dennis Tanovich, ‘Child’s Pose’ by Pozitia Copilului and ‘Harmony Lessons’ by Emir Baiganzin,” Al Jabri said.
Part of Al Jabri’s vision is to showcase Arabic films and let them compete with international cinema. This year there will be 13 Arab feature films — seven of them will start their international journey with a world premiere at ADFF. He also expected Arabic documentaries to be well received, as there are some very strong contributions that have been enabled by the work and funding of SANAD, Injaz and the Doha Film Institute.
“ADFF was the first festival in the MENA region to have Arab films competing side by side with international films, and we are proud to maintain that principle,” said Al Jabri.
Another highlight that is new this year is the Child Protection Award, an award created in partnership with the Ministry of Interior’s Child Protection Centre, which aims to promote preventive action against child abuse and neglect by raising awareness through film.
Press briefings repeatedly emphasized that films have always cared about children, referencing examples such as Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid.”
Cavina said the selected films will address issues of new social and technological conditions of children.
“This year we want to help parents to understand the new reality of children,” she said. “Internet and the lack of privacy, online gaming, porn are just a few of the growing issues. It is not easy to grasp, for parents, how marketing people exploit the personal information that their children put on the Internet. Children are made to want things they actually don’t want.”
When ADFF began seven years ago, it was met with a portion of curiosity and a portion of resistance, Cavina said. She described how the impact of the festival has started to manifest itself in terms of a changing perception: Now, more and more people accept the idea that film is an important instrument to convey culture and introduce change.
“I think many people were skeptical and perceived film in general as quite boring and even bizarre in the beginning,” Cavina said. “But with time there has been a shift in perception, and people increasingly realize that a film festival is so much more than a red carpet and glam — cinema is poetry, art, architecture and about human emotions, feelings and life choices — it is all noble about human creativity.”
The festival has certainly had spillover effects. Cavina reiterated how ADFF has reached the public discourse for people in Abu Dhabi and in the UAE.
“Nowadays Abu Dhabi Film Festival is more seen as a relevant cultural event about cinema that explores questions of identity and uniqueness, selfish desires and human nature,” Cavina said. “People have realized that through film, meaning can be added to your life — it can make you want to do something different if an inner shift happens.”
For Cavina, one of the main achievements of this year is the fact that 16 female filmmakers are represented, and many of their films are giving a voice to women who ordinarily cannot voice their opinions easily.
“I am so happy to see that UAE families have started to question the idea that their daughters should not be doing film — that filmmakers indeed are a way of changing society,” Cavina said. “I also think that film is a good way of understanding the audience in order to enlarge their boundaries ... Though I don’t think that you should challenge for the sake of  [challenging] because then people will shut-down — you need [to] appeal to the audience and ask them to explore with you.”
She also noted the political importance of film in the Arab world — that these festivals have an even stronger reason to exist and stand up for Arab communities in times of political tensions and conflicts.
“With the Arab Spring and similar political events, it is important that film is there to help.”
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