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Arabian Nights

Middle East International Film Festival

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Body of Lies

Leonardo DiCaprio in Body of Lies; the closing film at this year's MEIFF.

What follows is a short blog by Zainab Al Hassani who went to this year's Middle East International Film Festival, which took place between 10-19 October 2008 in Abu Dhabi. This article is unique to www.list.co.uk.

Lately, film festivals seem to be cropping up faster than an overly hormonal teenager’s face, but Abu Dhabi has tried to take a different route down the festival path, focusing more on the growing talents of up-and-coming filmmakers from, primarily the Middle East, as opposed to putting the spotlight solely on the films taking part. And while the majority of films shown at this year’s event, such as Time of Comrades and Prêt A Porter Imm Ali were written by and star Arabs, there was a good selection of other very different films too, ranging from Russian horror to Ridley Scott’s political thriller Body of Lies (pictured), the latter of which saw it’s Middle Eastern premiere take place at the festival’s closing ceremony. In particular Breadmakers, an 11-minute film about life in Edinburgh’s Garvald bakery, was named best short documentary at the Festival, picking up a cheque for $75,000.

The festival itself takes place in the majestic and very bling (think big, gold and palatial looking and you’re almost there. Oh and don’t forget the marble. There’s a lot of marble) Emirates Palace, reputedly the most expensive hotel ever built, and at 850,000 metres squared all encompassing - definitely big enough to house the ten-day festival as well as the overflowing ego’s of dozens of film stars, directors, delegates and lest we forget, eager fans. And as one of the richest cities in the world, it is no wonder that the MEIFF has managed to improve in such a short period of time-given that the premiere of the festival last year was considerably less organised. Yet behind the façade of glamour and glitz, the movies and the stars, this festival still has a lot of growing up to do should it ever wish to consider itself in the same league as Cannes, Toronto and the Edinburgh Film Festival among others.

For a start the festival needs to work on promoting itself better, not that it hasn’t done a pretty good job so far, but the majority of films being shown were at less than half capacity, which in some cases was nothing short of blasphemous considering some of the absolute gems on offer. Secondly, despite the grandiose surroundings, the festival was tucked away on the bottom floor of the hotel, somewhat diminishing the importance of it all. Organisation still seems low down on the organisers’ list of things to accomplish, as guests at the closing ceremony paid no heed to both the timing of the event (no, no you can’t make a late entrance and stand in my way while I’m trying to drool over Joseph Fiennes you philistine) as well as to the rather lax security.

This year’s closing film, Body of Lies, was either a very clever marketing ploy, or a pretty stupid choice, although I haven’t worked it out yet. There is no doubt that Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe are superb actors, and the film is a pretty good political thriller, but should a film about Americans saving the world from Arab terrorists really have been shown at an Arab film festival? However, despite my confusion at the film choice, it seemed that the MEIFF courted controversy and won a good-natured reaction from the mainly Arab crowd for their closing film choice.

Considering the success this year’s festival turned out to be, both in terms of the quality of films and the turnout, I have no doubt that the MEIFF will vastly improve itself year after year.

Visit www.meiff.com for more information. The List will be reporting in more detail on this festival in 2009.

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