Postioning itself as the burgeoning cultural hub of the Gulf, Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nayhan described the film festival, which is planned for Oct 12-17 with a budget of around $8m, as part of Abu Dhabi's commitment to culture and education: the emirate already hosts branches of the Sorbonne, is in talks with Yale University, and recently announced the development of the multibillion-dollar-project Saadiyat Island, destined by 2018 to be home to the Louvre's first international branch, and the world's biggest Guggenheim Museum.
Compared to these mammoth long-term projects, the emirate's inaugural Middle East International Film Festival appears to be something of a rush project, although the authorities maintain it has been in planning for some time. Mohammed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, director general of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, is yet to appoint a festival director and plans for the structure of the programme are yet to be finalised.
As in neighbouring emirate Dubai, organisers are keen to emphasise the industry aims of the festival. Abed Awad, president of the Abu Dhabi Film
Commission, told ScreenDaily.com that the festival aimed to bring together a diverse portfolio of regional and international investors with directors and producers, and that they already had interest from banks and hedge funds.
He had been given a mandate from the government to do whatever was necessary to build a smooth, non-bureaucratic organisation with incentives for co-producers. The officials were unwilling to disclose figures or details, but Nashura Al Ruwaini, a TV personality and CEO of Pyramedia, a production company charged with managing the festival, emphasised that the Abu Dhabi government had 'an unlimited fund for films of interest to the UAE'.
The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), held in December, set up an industry office in 2006, headed by Jane Williams, and aims to become a matchmaker, both at the festival, and through Dubai Studio City, due to launch its first sound stages later this year.
Sheikh Sultan maintained that the Abu Dhabi film festival would 'complement our successful sister state,' but positioning the festival just two months before the Dubai edition, now in its fourth year, could appear provocative.
Still, Yemeni-British filmmaker Bader Ben Hirsi, one of the festival organisers, said that the Abu Dhabi festival would not be competing for premieres with Dubai. DIFF, with its slick organisation and $350,000 Muhr Awards for Arab filmmaking, has carved out a niche for itself as the destination for Arab cinema.