Stars, slate lend weight to Middle East Fest

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Related story: Big names, films boost MEIFF startup

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- The Middle East International Film Festival launched at the Emirates Palace with Joe Wright's acclaimed adaptation of Ian McEwan's novel "Atonement."

"This is going to have a huge impact on the Middle East's cinema," festival Director Jon Fitzgerald told The Hollywood Reporter. "I don't believe the Middle East has had a comprehensive taste of international cinema. You go to the cinemas, and there's six or seven Hollywood films and maybe one Bollywood film, so I think it's an opportunity for them to see just how good international films and art house films can be. And if they see it, then they'll embrace it. The support that the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage is giving the region to really boost the industry here is outstanding."

It is rumored that Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon will be in Abu Dhabi during the fest, and organizers are confident that the event will raise the profile of the capital as a player in the film industry.

"This is the best slate I've ever had," Fitzgerald said. "It's the biggest and most spectacular in terms of profile and scope. Nothing compares to this."

Festival planners are anticipating the arrival within the next 48 hours of heavyweight talent including Sarandon and Kevin Spacey.

"We're expecting a pretty good turnout from the 'Elah' group," said Fitzgerald of the film closing the gala. "In the Valley of Elah" is directed by Paul Haggis and stars Sarandon and Theron. Comedian Dave Chapelle also is expected to be in attendance.

Fitzgerald added that Frances Fisher and Jake McLaughlin will also be lending support to their movies.

The Weinstein Co.'s Harvey Weinstein will deliver a keynote speech to open the Film Financing Circle, as the search for emerging talent begins in earnest, with the InCircle Pearl production grant awarded to an emerging filmmaker on Wednesday.

MEIFF, which opened Sunday, runs through Friday.
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