With increasing international clout, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (Oct 11-20) is also a key backer of international films.

Anyone who saw the world premiere of Hala Alabdalla’s As If We Were Catching A Cobra at the Toronto International Film Festival in September will have spotted the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) acknowledged in the opening and closing credits.

Alabdalla, whose documentary explores the hot-button relationship between the Islamic world and caricature, repays ADFF’s faith by appearing in competition this year at the very Arab film festival that helped finance the completion of her film.

At least three other films selected for Abu Dhabi in 2012 also benefited from Sanad, the festival’s development and post-production fund that awards annual grants totalling $500,000 to “bold and remarkable” projects from film-makers across the Arab world. Others include Annemarie Jacir’s When I Saw You, a drama about Palestinian refugees in 1960s Jordan; Philippe Dib’s documentary In Search Of Oil & Sand that includes real footage shot by members of the Egyptian royal family in 1952 just weeks before a coup d’etat threw them out of power; and Mahdi Fleifel’s A World Not Ours, a Lebanon-UK-UAE co-production that looks at the FIFA World Cup through the eyes of Palestinians.

Sanad, the festival’s development and post-production fund, awards annual grants totalling $500,000

Such locally backed productions underline ADFF’s ambitions and sit confidently alongside a line-up of international titles from every film-making corner, many of them still hot from festival launches at Cannes, Venice and Toronto. These films are no longer token gestures to Arabic culture, but expressions of increasing clout on the world stage - a clout epitomised in the glitzy opening night film, Arbitrage. A Wall Street crime thriller starring Richard Gere, it was produced by Mohammed Al Turki, the young Saudi-born producer who has become an emblematic new face of Hollywood and its shifting balance of power.

Al Turki, Richard Gere and his Arbitrage co-star Nate Parker will all attend Abu Dhabi this year alongside director Nicholas Jarecki, whose brother Eugene will also be represented at the 10-day festival as the director of The House I Live In, one of 12 films in the documentary feature competition where the top prize is a cool $100,000. The same generous sum, not to mention many lucrative runner-up prizes, are lavished on the winners of the other two feature-length competitions, the Narrative Feature Competition for international films and the New Horizons Competition for first and second-time film-makers. Of the 44 titles competing for these prizes, nine involve the UAE as a producing partner - another sign of the rapid strides the country is making as an international film-making force.

Now in its sixth year, the ADFF will be returning to the iconic Emirates Palace after a brief stint at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel last year. This is the first year the festival will be presented under the management of twofour54 as part of the plan to align the festival alongside the emirate’s other media initiatives and related events. With that shift has come a change in programming leadership. Earlier this year, Ali Al Jabri, the former director of the festival’s Emirates Film Competition, replaced Peter Scarlet, the US veteran of the festival scene.

Al Jabri has been greeted in his debut year by “literally hundreds of submissions from all over the world”.

Narrative feature competition

After The Battle (Egypt-Fr-UAE)
Dir Yousry Nasrallah

Araf - Somewhere In Between (Turk-Fr-Ger)
Dir Yesim Ustaoglu

Betrayal (Rus)
Dir Kirill Serebrennikov

Everyday (UK)
Dir Michael Winterbottom

Gebo And The Shadow (Port-Fr)
Dir Manoel de Oliveira

Ginger & Rosa (UK-Can-Croatia-Den)
Dir Sally Potter

Harraga Blues (Alg)
Dir Moussa Haddad

Hidden Beauties (Tun-Fr-UAE)
Dir Nouri Bouzid

In The House (Fr)
Dir Francois Ozon

It Was The Son (It-Fr)
Dir Daniele Cipri

The Last Supper (Chi)
Dir Lu Chuan

Lore (Aus-Ger-UK)
Dir Cate Shortland

Love Is All You Need (Den)
Dir Susanne Bier

No (Chile-US)
Dir Pablo Larrain

Outrage Beyond (Jap)
Dir Takeshi Kitano

Perfumes Of Algiers (Alg)
Dir Rachid Benhadj

‘We are seeing a new generation of film-makers’

Ali Al Jabri, director of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, tells Colin Brown how the festival is acting as a catalyst for Arab film-making

What does this upcoming festival hope to achieve on the programming front, both for local audiences and international guests?

“The festival has a very strong line-up of Arab and international films and we are very happy with the selection for this year. It will, as in the past, engage multicultural audiences and will provide local, Arab and international film-makers with the perfect place to exchange ideas and projects. One of the many aims of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival is to help develop emerging and established Arab film-makers through their exposure to international cinema and interaction with film-makers from all over the world. We believe our programme this year, both on and off screen, will fulfil our role of helping to develop a film culture in the region.”

How do you view prospects now for Arab film-makers and film companies in terms of building a self-sustaining industry?

“We are seeing the emergence of a new generation of film-makers, young Arabs that are embracing technology and telling their stories in new and innovative ways. We are also seeing Arabs getting involved in all aspects of the industry, especially behind the camera, and we hope the Abu Dhabi Film Festival encourages more to get involved. This will lead to the development of a sustainable industry… All of this makes me very optimistic for the future of the Arab film industry.”

What film-making trends do you see coming out of the Arab cinema world, and the wider international marketplace?

“Throughout history, film-makers have been influenced by issues affecting society and 2012 is no different as people use film to tell their stories. Like everywhere else in the world, the big trend is technology and the ability for anyone to become a film-maker. You will see this at the film festival in the form of the Emirates Film Competition. This year has seen a record number of entries, especially from students, and the festival provides a great platform for these emerging film-makers.”

What is your festival programming philosophy and can we expect to see any changes in direction or emphasis at either this edition of the ADFF or in future years?

“Abu Dhabi enjoys the benefit of being the first festival on the region’s annual calendar and has always had a reputation for our programme, especially the Arabic films. We aim to continue to build on our strengths. We want to create a strong bond with the UAE community, with the whole city celebrating film. We want to support the emerging creative community in their understanding, appreciation and engagement with the medium of film, as well as the role of storytelling, and contribute to the creation of a film culture in the city. We hope this will act as a catalyst in stimulating a passion in young Emiratis and Arabs to pursue a career in film.”