1st Middle East fest stocks up

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Nadine Labaki's "Caramel," Nic Balthazar's "Ben X" and Jake Paltrow's "The Good Night" are among the films that will compete for the Black Pearl at the inaugural Middle East International Film Festival.

"The selection represents world-class talent and a terrific combination of critically acclaimed films, award winners and crowd-pleasers," festival director Jon Fitzgerald said Friday.

The lineup for the Oct. 14-19 festival includes a number of UAE premieres and is focused on emerging filmmakers.

"The production support awarded with the Black Pearl is truly one of a kind," executive director Nashwa Al-Ruwaini said. "We are confident that it will help propel its recipient to the next level of filmmaking."

Chosen from more than 700 entries, the competition titles will compete across three categories: fiction, documentary and short films.

The fiction section features 12 films. These include "Caramel," a drama-comedy looking at the lives of women in a Lebanese beauty salon. It was the Lebanese submission for the foreign-language Oscar and has screened at Cannes and Toronto.

Other screenings include Belgian entry "Ben X," a multiple award winner at the 2007 Montreal World Film Festival about an autistic boy who plots revenge on school bullies. U.S. entries include Paltrow's "Night," which premiered at Sundance, and James Strouse's Iraq War home-front drama "Grace Is Gone."

The documentary section comprises six films. These include Cambodian entry "New Year Baby" by Socheata Poeuv, about the lives of six Cambodians who escape the Khmer Rouge genocide and become Americans, and "I Love Hip Hop in Morocco" by Joshua Asen, about a group of Moroccan hip hop artists who organize a music contest in the face of official resistance.

The short film competition is comprised of 18 entries including the U.K.'s "And Life Went On," Maryam Mohajer's animated film about people under siege in Tehran, and Norwegian entry "Bawke," directed by Hisham Zaman.

"Bawke," about a father and son who escape Iraq in search of a better life, won the short film award at this year's Tokyo Film Festival and earned honors in 2006 at Toronto and San Sebastian.

Reflecting the fest's international reach, other entries hail from Argentina, Canada, the U.S. and Turkey.

In addition to bringing a diverse slate of international films to the local community, organizers are hoping to introduce filmmakers from around the world to the resources of the region. With that goal in mind, the fest is launching the inaugural Film Financing Circle, an international co-production conference scheduled to run Oct. 15-17.
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