The Abu Dhabi Film Festival started its eighth edition on Thursday night with a first: It opened with a home production, putting Ali Mustafa's film From A To B in a slot usually reserved for big-budget Hollywood films.
The film is the first Emirati feature to open the festival in its near-decade of operation For festival director Ali Al Jabri, Thursday night was only the beginning.
"It's not so much change, as it is trying to bring something new. This year, what's new is opening with an Emirati film.”
Many of the films showing at ADFF over the next nine days have already won over critics at major global film festivals, and Al Jabri says he and his team sought those films out. "Having films from all over the world, especially Sundance, Berlin, Toronto, and Venice is very important for us and will make the festival very special.”
The man of the hour himself, Mustafa, was at his second red carpet event in just as many days, having been at the Happy New Year premiere in Dubai the night before.
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"To be honest, this is the paramount of my dreams because an Emirati film is opening the festival.”
Mustafa's three leads, Fadi Rifaai, Shadi Al Fons and Fahad Al Butairi, who play pals who go on a road trip from Abu Dhabi to Beirut to honour their dead best friend, also walked the carpet.
Industry heavyweights included Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the two-term president of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science. Although she said she hasn't seen much from the Arab film industry, she told Gulf News she believes the representation of Arabs in Hollywood is improving. Could there be an Emirati Oscar winner in the next 10 years? "I don't see why not.”
Last year, Indian actor Irrfan Khan was at Dubai International Film Festival for the premiere of his hit film The Lunchbox. This year, he is president of ADFF's Narrative Features competition jury.
"A movie has to give you an experience. It has to engulf you in its own world. And that world should be able to give you emotional or intellectual experience.” As for his own industry specifically, he said Bollywood is "evolving”.
"Bollywood is evolving every week — evolving rapidly. The success of Haider is a sign of that,” said the actor, referring to his more recent hit, an Indian take on Hamlet. "Haider is a very complicated film, where the mother is having an affair, nobody sees that. But we don't make a villain out of her, and still people are loving that film — that's a sign of evolution.”
French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb and American producer Edward Pressman were recipients of ADFF's Career Achievement Awards during the opening ceremony. Pressman is known for films such as The Crow, American Psycho and Wall Street. Bouchareb's most recent film, Two Men in Town, which stars Whitaker as a Muslim convert, is screening on Saturday at 8.45pm.
Bouchareb said Whitaker, who attended last year's ADFF, learned a lot about Islam for the role.
"He learned to pray, he learned Quran, he met a lot of people, imams, in Los Angeles and New York. He worked a lot and discovered the culture.”
'Charlie Chaplin visited the Middle East'
The granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, Carmin, revealed the legendary actor "visited the Middle East”.
"I think he'd be very curious to come back and see what's changed and he'd be delightful to come here for a film festival, because he loved movies.”
The Abu Dhabi Film Festival runs until November 1 screening total of 197 films, of which nine are feature length world premieres and 48 short film premieres.