Abu Dhabi film festival has two bright characteristics: huge prize fund and brilliant executive director, who had put together a unique festival program. Let’s speak about the second point. Peter Scarlet, a well known artistic director of San-Francisco and Tribeca film festivals, for three year he had worked for ADFF making it range from young to known on cinema map. One of my colleagues Sitora Aliyeva once said: “Everybody wants to be in competition here.” Why so? I think not only by the first reason – huge fund for prizes (there are 9 sections of festival with prizes, totally 1,330,000 USD and in three of them the main prizes are 100,000 USD each) but also because the battle of giants is going on here.
For example in the main – Narrative Feature Competition – 16 films from different continents were presented. Among them we saw films already shown in 2011 and even awarded on the largest film festivals: in Berlin – A Separation by Asghar Farhadi (Iran); in Cannes – Elena by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Russia), We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lynne Ramsay (UK); in Venice – Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud (France), Dark Horse by Todd Solondz (USA); in Toronto – Rampart by Oren Moverman (USA),Trishna by Michael Winterbottom (UK, Sweden) and others. Absolutely unexpectedly two main prizes in this section won Iranian directors: as “Best film” was awarded Chicken with Plums and “Special Jury Award” was given to A Separation. It was a real triumph of Asian and particularly of Iranian cinema.
But firstly Abu Dhabi is a regional film festival that aims to raise Arab and OAE cinema. For supporting and mapping Arab cinema organizers of festival every section had created prizes for the best director and the best producer from the Arab world. It is very smart decision which can be adopted for regional film festival on any continent. You can take into the competition very famous films and don’t be afraid, that local films will be forgotten by jury. So in Narrative Feature Competition the best director of Arab World was called Ismael Ferroukhi from Morocco for his film Free Men and in the program New Horizons – Amr Salama from Egypt for his film Asma’a. On closing ceremony we saw the great celebration of film Asma’a because not only director but also the actor Maged El Kedwani received the prize for the best male role. He played the role of TV show journalist who teach the main heroine Asma’a, who is HIV-positive, to speak out and fight against her illness and the ignorance of society. Writer and director Amr Salama one of the best Egyptian directors of new generation, in 2008 he was called “the best newcomer", joints in Asma’a high cinematographic level of professionalism and civil attitude to cinema. The topic of this film is very important to Muslim world, where people look at HIV/AIDS as not only illness, but God’s punishment. The best director in Documentary Feature Competition was called Safinez Bousbia for her film El Gusto – Algeria’s version of Buena Vista Social Club of Wim Wenders.
In our NETPAC program we didn’t have most of these films, because Morocco, Egypt and Algeria are not Asian countries. But what we really loved, that in our program we had 11 films from all sections of Abu Dhabi film festival. We were unique jury because all of us were women: charming actress Fatemeh Simin Motamed-Arya from Iran, wise Jocelyne Saab, film director from Lebanon and me – film critic from Kazakhstan. We did have a very friendly atmosphere and short discussion for concerning the winner. We gave our NETPAC Award to the documentary film Marathon Boy directed by Gemma Atwal “for the great Indian story of a child told locally but brilliantly integrated into the problems of Asian societies”.
The story told in this film is really shocking: coach and the owner of orphanage house Biranchi Das plucked from the slums 4,5 years old boy Budhia and took care of him. Very soon he discovered the boy’s talent for running and decided to make him marathon runner. During the film you would go through different emotions. First you respect Biranchi Das as strong, active man who gives not only house and meals for the children in his private orphanage house but also he teaches them judo and other sportive skills. Then you begin to hate him when we see the scenes of end marathon when it seems that little Budhia is close to his death. Unbelievable, but film director Gemma Atwal was shooting her film during five years! And we together with heroes of film are going through their victories and falls. Step by step, from one year to another the story of their relationships grows up to social drama involving local government, mass media, elections, corruption etc. Unexpected turns of this story show us different faces of modern India. Marathon Boy is as well strong and professionally done as Slum Dog Millionaire but in documentary genre.
It is interesting to note that first we made our decision concern this film and then we decided to see the name of director in Festival Catalog and had surprisingly discovered that she is a woman. On closing ceremony of Abu Dhabi film festival we discovered another interesting thing – the majority of main prizes we given to female directors: Marjane Satrapi for the film Chicken with Plums (France, Germany, Belgium) received award for the best film in Narrative Competition; Julia Murat for the film Stories Only Exist When Remembered (Brazil, Argentine, France) received award for the best film in New Horizons; Safinez Bousbia for the film El Gusto (Algeria, France, Irreland, United Arab Emirates) received award for the best director from the Arab World in Documentary Feature Competition; Gemma Atwal with the film Marathon Boy (India, United Kingdom, USA) received NETPAC prize and award for the “Best New director” in Documentary Feature Competition. In the fight of giants women had won!
And it happened in Abu Dhabi.
Festival Report by Gulnara Abikeyeva, Kazakhstan