Gianopulos presents Circle grant in Abu Dhabi

Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Ayouch receives $100,000

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Jim Gianopulos presented Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Ayouch with a $100,000 Shasha Grant on Wednesday as Abu Dhabi's second annual Circle filmmaking conference wrapped with a gala ceremony.

The two-day event, held at Abu Dhabi's prestigious Shangri-La Qaryat Al Beri Hotel, featured masters classes chaired by Banderas and Spike Lee.

Emerging filmmaker Ayouch, 32, has directed two documentaries: "The King's Queens," about the status of women in Morocco, and "Angel's Dust," about autistic teenagers. He also directed the features "Heart Edges" and "Cracks."

Winning screenplay "Sambo Do Maazouz" will be his third feature.

Finalists presented their entries to a jury that included Fox Filmed Entertainment boss Jim Gianopulos, producer Kathleen Kennedy and Ashok Amritraj, chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Films.

The Circle Conference, a program of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, began life as part of last year's inaugural Middle East International Film Festival. It is now an independent event that aims to encourage filmmaking in the Middle East by bringing together aspiring filmmakers from the region with leading industry figures from the international entertainment community. The Circle also provides filmmakers an opportunity to find financing for their projects.

"The excitement, passion and creativity of our hundreds of participants has been truly educational and inspiring," Circle director Adrienne Briggs said. "I was especially appreciative of the active involvement of Antonio Banderas, Spike Lee and (director) McG and our other talented panelists, as their insights and one-on-one discussions illuminated the hearts of aspiring filmmakers from around the world."
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