INTERVIEW: Ali Al Jabri, director of ADFF

Ali Al Jabri, director of ADFF, discusses this year's agenda
Ali Al Jabri, director of ADFF.
Ali Al Jabri, director of ADFF.

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Digital Studio: What’s new about this year’s film festival? Are there any new innovations or sections?

The structure of the festival is the same as in previous years, but we have new content and films. This year, we have a total of seven world premieres, all of them from the Arab world. One of them was Ali Mostafa’s From A to B, our opening film. It was the first time in the festival’s history that we opened with an Emirati film and we are very proud about this landmark event.

Other Arab films such as The Valley by Lebanese director Ghassan Salhab, Iraqi Odyssey by Swiss-Iraqi director Samir and The Wanted 18 directed by Amer Al Shomali and Paul Cowan have only just started to be showcased at international Festivals like Toronto. The film Theeb by Naji Abu Nowar, for example, has just won the Orizzonti award for best director in Venice.

Also, we are going to present the Golden Bear Winner of the Berlin Film Festival, Black Coal Thin Ice by Diao Yinan from China. We will show the winner of Cannes, the Turkish film Winter Sleep by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, and we will present the winner of this year’s Venice Film Festival, A Pigeon Sat On Branch Reflecting on Existence by Swedish director Roy Andersson.

At Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) these films are shown for the first time in the region, whereas some of them will be celebrating their second worldwide screening here.

We have a really vast programme on offer this year. We will close the festival with the animation Big Hero 6, the first collaboration between Disney and Marvel. Big Hero 6 is one of the biggest international titles probably ever shown at the festival. This will be the second screening of the film, just a few days after its World Premiere in Tokyo.

Then, together with Martin Scorsese’s, “The World Cinema Project” we will present newly restored and preserved films from different corners of the world; The Color of Pomegranates from 1968 by legendary Armenian director Sergei Parajanov and Manila in the Claws of Night from 1975 by Filipino Lino Brock.

Digital Studio: What for you are the highlights of this year’s agenda?

One of the most exciting aspects of the Arabic programme is the Emirates Film Competition (EFC), which I hold in high regard. A few years ago, we launched a campaign to support female Emirati filmmakers in universities and colleges around the UAE and this has delivered amazing results.

Now more than half of the films in the EFC are made by female filmmakers and many of them focus on social topics in their films, especially issues that are relevant to women in the region.
Another female filmmaker from the UAE will present her film as a world premiere in the Documentary Competition, Sounds of the Sea, directed by Nujoom Al Ghanem. We will see more feature films emerging from the UAE in the future.

Abu Dhabi has now assembled its filmmaking institutions and this makes the production processes much easier for local directors and producers. Our opening film, From A to B, is a great example of those institutions working together.

Two films of the EFC are also shown in this year’s International Short film Competition, Desire by Hala Matar (Bahrain, starring Johnny Knoxville) and Koshk, directed by Emirati Abdullah Al-Kaabi. These two films will participate in both the EFC and the Short Film Competition.

At ADFF, one of our main objectives is to help Emirati students to follow their passion of filmmaking and we also aim to connect aspiring directors with film experts from all over the world.

Digital Studio: Tell me about the SANAD programme as it relates to this year’s festival.

The festival presents several SANAD supported titles in this year’s programme, some as world premieres and others have already been launched at other major festivals.

ADFF is focused on discovering Arab talent and Arab cinema and SANAD is one of the tools for this. We want to help develop Arab filmmaking in general and are very happy, when a SANAD funded film is selected for an international film festival elsewhere.

We are not insisting on screening them first and are happy when they get discovered by other festivals. Often the filmmakers do decide to premiere at ADFF however, which is a proof of the good relationships we have with the filmmakers and the importance of the festival.

SANAD has become an international label, a stamp of quality. SANAD supported films have continually been featured at international film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin and Venice and have received international recognition by winning numerous awards. SANAD not only provides funding but support to projects starting at the development stage and continues its support until these films reach the big screens, as is the case with the three films Theeb, Iraqi Odyssey, and The Wanted 18.
 

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