The Middle East International Film Festival promises a better and more varied offering this year, with special emphasis on premieres from the Arab world.
The second edition of the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) will be held this month in Abu Dhabi, and several people in the industry will be watching it very closely.
One of the main reasons for this will be the sudden active interest from Abu Dhabi over the last one year in growing its state-owned media firm, Abu Dhabi Media Company, and its injection of capital into film productions.
Besides this, the festival promises an impressive line-up of films both from the region as well as international circles.
"The festival serves Arab cinema, especially in the Emirates and the Gulf, and we are honoured to have great Arabic titles both in and out of competition as well as a massive selection of international films. We aspire to serve the art of film from all over the world. This year, we promise an experience not to be missed for cinema lovers and interesting industry initiatives that would cater to industry professionals," commented MEIFF's executive director Nashwa Al Ruwaini.
This year, the festival will screen films from more than 35 countries worldwide. Speaking about the choice of films this year, Jon Fitzgerald, MEIFF's director of programming stated:
"It was a real challenge trying to achieve a true balance between East and West in our programming due to the sheer excellence in submissions from both this part of the world and beyond. Our viewing committee and programmers have viewed over a thousand films in order to get to the stage we are at currently in finalising the final slate."
The Abu Dhabi film fest has further been expanded to ten days and the prize money for the Black Pearl Awards has been increased to a whopping US $1 million.
A special event will be held at the festival in partnership with Cinema Verite to pay tribute to Oscar winning actress Jane Fonda. Associated with Paris-based Cinema Verite is a fund that finances socially-conscious films.
Joining Fonda for the event with Cinema Verite will be Susan Sarandon, and Carole Bouquet. A tribute honouring Tunisian director Nacer Khemir will also be held during MEIFF on his 60th birthday with a special screening of his film Touaq al Hammama al Mafqoud, based on the book by Ibn Hazem.
Nasser is a theatre and film director as well as a poet, writer and painter.
Several significant initiatives have been announced this year by the film fest. MEIFF will be launching the ‘MOST' initiative during the Festival this year in conjunction with The Saban Centre for Middle Eastern Policy at The Brookings Institute in Washington.
‘MOST' stands for ‘Muslims on Screen and Television' and will become a cultural resource centre providing valuable resources and information on Islam and Muslims for the US entertainment community.
Its aim is to meet the critical need for increased understanding and accurate representation on both sides during this time of great tension and mutual suspicion between the US and Muslim World.
MEIFF will also be launching the Arab Film Industry Research Circle that covers the current situation of Arab cinema in the Levant, Egypt, The Gulf and North Africa.
This research circle aspires to shed light on the points of strengths and weaknesses in Arab cinema along with ways in which co-production initiatives can be achieved. The festival will also offer a symposium about the power of women in the entertainment industry.
During MEIFF, visitors will be able to participate in a conference devoted to film financing, production and showcasing regional film industry talent from across the Middle East.
The Circle will provide a variety of programmes throughout the year to raise Abu Dhabi's visibility to the international film community by informing local investors of financing structures, showcasing new artists, improving the skills of Emirati and Middle East filmmakers, and facilitating production collaborations.
Adrienne Briggs, Director of The Circle, explained that The Circle is an initiative established by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH).
"We were set up to provide year-round programmes to grow the film industry in Abu Dhabi and become a conduit for industry representatives from Hollywood, Europe and Asia to meet the brightest emerging filmmakers in the Middle East," she said.
The conference programme will include a number of activities that will help give rise to Abu Dhabi as the centre of the filmmaking industry in the region.
Activities will include discussion panels, roundtables, and master classes (in which selected filmmakers will have the opportunity to explore their craft with award-winning screenwriters).
Several programmes during the Circle Conference designed to showcase talent include the Shasha Grant - an international $100,000 screenwriting contest designed to identify, develop and launch the career of an up-and-coming filmmaker; and the Cloeween Connection, which will spotlight 15 emerging directors in the region and facilitate collaborations on their next films through the Producers Circle.