The Abu Dhabi Film Festival: An Appreciation of Film and the Movie Industry

Abu Dhabi played host to film stars and other leading lights of the international film world when the seventh Abu Dhabi Film Festival took place from October 24th through November 2nd and presented nine days of exceptional cinema. Hollywood A-lister Forrest Whitaker walked the red carpet alongside Arabian and Indian actors and new talents that the audience discovered during the nine day celebration. Festival Guests had the chance to attend screenings of their films, giving film fans a chance to hear insider stories first hand.

The seventh ADFF opened with the Middle East Premiere of Life Of Crime. The director Daniel Schechter and actor Mark Boone Junior discussed the film at a live audience Q&A during the Opening Night.

The Opening Night program honored Forest Whitaker, who won 23 major acting awards, including the Academy, Screen Actor’s Guild and BAFTA awards, for his performance as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin The Last King Of Scotland (2006). Whitaker, who has starred in iconic films like The Crying Game (1992) as well as turning his hand to producing (Fruitvale Station) and directing films such as Hope Floats, 1998 and Waiting To Exhale. In partnership with Jaeger-LeCoultre, Whitaker received a Black Pearl Career Achievement award.

Actress Hiam Abbass (Munich, 2005; The Visitor, 2007; Miral, 2010; and Peace After Marriage which world premieres at ADFF 2013) was also be presented with a Black Pearl Career Achievement Award in recognition for her admirable contributions to cinema as an artist, actress and professional.

In addition to Whitaker and Hiam, the festival welcomed Mark Boone Junior, Danis Tanović, Aparna Sen and Irrfan Khan, as well as Saleh Bakri, Merzak Allouache, Hend Sabri, Lebleba, Mervat Amin, Abed Fahd, Basel Khayat and Kinda Allouch, all of whom engaged in illuminating encounters with the audience, offering insights into their work. Among the GCC talent were Huda Al Khatib, Ahmed Al Jasimi and Mohammed Al Mansoor, other notable guests in attendance represented a vast array of countries and film industries. The guest list also included more than 550 film professionals and more than 900 members of the press.



Hundreds of international visitors and community members enjoyed the Festival’s diverse programme of screenings, master classes, celebrity encounters and special events. The host location the event was the showcase of opulence in the middle east, the Emirates Palace. The opening night red carpet welcomed a bevy of beautiful starlets in glamorous gowns as they were received by the flashing lights of paparazzi and adoring fans.

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) is presented each October to help create a vibrant film culture throughout the region. With a focus on Arab cinema and the wealth of emerging and established film talent from around the world, ADFF has become one of the most anticipated cultural events in Abu Dhabi, helping to enhance the Emirate as a hub of creativity.

“ADFF has firmly established itself as one of the most important cultural events in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. The Festival can count on a steady and eager fan base among the local community and sees audiences returning to the Festival every year in great numbers. We welcome these encouraging figures and the positive feedback we received from our guests, reflecting of the wider cultural surge taking place in our region. It was very gratifying to see that Abu Dhabi residents and international guests alike recognize ADFF as one of the key places to discover outstanding films from all over the world.” said Ali Al Jabri, Director of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

The Festival’s seventh edition presented 90 feature films and 70 shorts from 51 countries, half of which hailed from the Middle East. The Festival celebrated 10 world premieres of feature length films and 6 international premieres.

The United Arab Emirates knows  how to put on impressive galas and the opening night affair at the ADFF was no different. The celebs, industry and few lucky guest were welcomed to the opening night party that featured a chance to rub shoulders with stars from the region and beyond. as The chefs of the Emirates Palaces prepared tasty dishes at live cooking stations for guest while the live band performed. There were special parties and events throughout the week for those welcomed beyond the velvet rope. One such affair was the Arabian night which hosted over 1000 guests. The meals, decoration, and music showcased the best of arab culture. There were falconer walking the crowds and guests enjoying the Arab dishes and shisha. There were Emiraties who performed their traditional dance as well as were performances by Lebanese bands who got the crowd moving under the stars until late into the night.

Arab Night

In addition to rubbing shoulders with celebrities and being able to go to some great events, the heart and soul of any good film festival s the ability to meet the people from the industry to make new friends and business connections and secondly to appreciate film.


I had the chance to connect with Syrian born actor Wassim Ulmajeed who now makes his home in Dubai. He attends film festivals in the region to network, meet people from the industry and to learn about projects and share his work. From the film festival, he met several producers and is now working on a film in Egypt for four months.

Wassim Ulmajeed

I also met actress and producer Nicole Watson who is from Canada but is living in Los Angeles. She is working on several projects and one involving travel programing for television and is looking to feature the Middle East. She was meeting with potential project partners and investors and felt that the film festival was a great place to t make those connections.

The Festival Featured a vibrant selection of 160 films and a wide-ranging program of exciting events, ADFF welcomed more than 40,000 attendees at festival venues that included the Emirates Palace hotel and the VOX Cinemas at Marina Mall. The Festival’s seventh edition saw an 11% increase in festival attendees, marking ADFF as one of the UAE’s most successful cultural events.

A stand out at the Festival was the movie Belle Directed by Amma Assante about a illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle. I received great praise and a standing ovation from the audience. Amma Assante and several members from the cast attended the ADFF and took questions from the audience. 

Standing Ovation by Appreciative Film Fans

Amma Asante

Star of Belle, Gugu Mbatha-Raw

A good things about film festivals is that it is a way to truly appreciate film and an opportuntity for filmmakers and actors to get exposure and to be seen by new audiences. Where else can you see 100 films in a week?! And these are good films that may not be available at your local cinema or netflixs. Foreign language films, , short films, and documentaries, many of which are world premiers, are there for you to see and appreciate. I saw two films that I would normally not see. The first was Quai D’Orsay,a French political comedy about a press secretary and an incompetent minister of foreign affairs played by Thierry Lhermitte. It was blistering satire and gave a whimsical insight to the political goings on in France. Another film that I took in was Only Lovers Left Alive which was a  dark film about vampires and a twisted love story. It starred Tilda Swinton, John Hurt and Tome Hiddleston. It was quirky, bizarre and at times slow and difficult to follow. Having said that, it did have its bright spots and was overall an entertaining way to get lost in a twisted tale of sex, love and power for two hours.

Only Lovers Left Alive

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival takes place each fall and is an ideal way to learn about Arab as well as international films. It is also an opportunity to connect with the industry and have a good time while celebrating film.

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