Abu Dhabi unveils Middle East fest


CANNES -- The United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi has picked its spot on the world's crowded film festival calendar, announcing plans Friday for the new Middle East International Film Festival, to launch Oct. 12-17.

Organizers also announced plans to create the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, which it is billing as a "a one-stop shop" for regional film production that one official said would have an "unlimited budget" for projects that meet the commission's criteria for financial incentives.

According to Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, one of the main backers of the dual projects, the initiatives are part of Abu Dhabi's wider efforts to establish itself as an international cultural hub.

The five-day festival, which is expected to have a budget of $8 million-$10 million, plans to be more low-key than the Dubai International Festival, which will open its fourth edition just 75 miles to the northeast less than eight weeks after the new Abu Dhabi-based event closes. But officials downplay any potential conflict, saying the two events will complement rather than compete with each other.

"The plan is for this to be a film-lover's festival, with less glitz than in Dubai and less emphasis on world premiere but more emphasis on interesting films and the business behind making films," filmmaker Bader Ben Hirsi, one of the organizers of the festival, said in an interview.

Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have attracted major Hollywood productions: "Syriana" shot in Dubai two years ago, and "The Kingdom" followed in Abu Dhabi a year later.

Though the Middle East International Film Festival -- which will be housed in the famous Emirates Palace luxury hotel -- will not have a market in this year's edition, organizers say they plan one for 2008. They say a longer format also is in the works for the coming years.

But it is unclear how much attention the it will attract sandwiched between late September's San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain and overlapping with the first two days of the sophomore edition of the RomaCinemaFest in the Italian capital.

But Abed Awad, the head of the new Abu Dhabi Film Commission, said the dates would not be a problem.

"Our challenge is to create a high-quality event, and the attention will come," he said.

The film commission is being created alongside the new festival as a way to promote films in the area. Officials said that the commission's "unlimited" film fund would be used to back local films and other projects that deal with the community in some way that grabs officials' attention. The commission will also be one of the driving forces behind the creation of a market at the Abu Dhabi-based festival in 2008 -- an event organizers say will be the Middle East's first full-fledged film market.

"There are so many great films that are not made because of a lack of funding," Awad said. "We want to help remedy part of that problem."