Films, names, networking give life to startup MEIFF

Most screenings are free to public

The inaugural Middle East International Film Festival unfurls Sunday having shipped in a coterie of big industry names that likely will guarantee the event international attention next week. The screening program is a mixture of big-name projects and debuts from emerging talent.

Brian De Palma's "Redacted" and Gavin Hood's "Rendition" are among the films making their debut in the Middle East.

Joe Wright's "Atonement," starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy, will open the UAE capital's first film fest, which runs through Oct. 19.

The festival's official competition section features 12 fiction films, including Nadine Labaki's "Caramel," Nic Balthazar's "Ben X" and Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud's animated "Persepolis." The six shortlisted documentaries in the nonfiction group include Joshua Asen and Jennifer Needleman's "I Love Hip Hop in Morocco" and Socheata Poeuv's "New Year Baby."

More than 102 screenings covering films from five sections will take place during the week, with tickets to general screenings available free of charge by registering at

Within the festival, a central program taking place Monday through Wednesday is the Film Financing Circle, one of several initiatives created to maximize networking opportunities be-tween local talent and international executives and filmmakers. The program will consist of breakout sessions and presentations as well as panel discussions.

"We are delighted to have secured the caliber of people for our panel; they are the best in the industry," FFC conference director Adrienne Briggs said.

The FFC will open Monday with a keynote address by Weinstein Co. co-chief Harvey Weinstein, who will speak about the state of international co-productions.

In addition, throughout the three-day FFC event, six powerhouse teams will create a marketing and finance strategy for six chosen projects.

"With the InCircle Pitch Program itself, we had so many entrants, and the six we have narrowed down are very strong candidates, and I am delighted to see them work with the InCircle guests," Briggs said.

The winner of the InCircle Grant, created to expose emerging filmmakers to high-level industry decision-makers, will receive $100,000 toward their next program, Briggs said.

"One of the greatest benefits to the community will be the structure of learning about film financing and listening to the professionals discuss," she said. "The other side is the programs that we're bringing to the Emirati filmmakers to elevate their filmmaking skills. Paul Haggis will be here to do a master class; bringing such high-caliber filmmaking talent is a huge bonus."

At the closing-night awards ceremony, the winners of the competition will receive the Black Pearl Award and production grants. The Middle East Filmmaker of the Year also will be unveiled.

Festival organizers are hopeful that MEIFF will mirror the growing success of the more established Dubai International Film Festival.

Said Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei, director general of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, "We are honored to present these outstanding films by such talented directors and look forward to celebrating the art of filmmaking here in Abu Dhabi."

Added festival director Jon Fitzgerald: "It is indicative of our dedication to the community and demonstrates the support we have from the international and studio communities in our mission to launch a world-class festival."