MEIFF attracts Fonda, Deneuve, Sarandon

Second edition of Abu Dhabi fest set for Oct. 10-19

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Jane Fonda, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve will lend their star power to the second annual Middle East International Film Festival, which kicks off Oct. 10 with Rian Johnson's crime caper "The Brothers Bloom."

MEIFF executive director Nashwa Al Ruwaini said Wednesday that the prize fund for the event's Black Pearl Awards is nearly double last year's at $1 million. The best fiction film alone will receive $200,000.

Fonda will be honored during a special event in association with humanitarian screen fund Cinema Verite. Deneuve, Sarandon and French actress Carole Bouquet are among those expected to attend.

Al Ruwaini also announced a new industry initiative, Muslims on Screen and Television, which will provide information on Islam and Muslims for the U.S. entertainment community.

There are several additions to the 2008 lineup, including 16 hours of documentaries about the 60-year division of Palestine and a section dedicated to films about the environment. The slate features entries from more than 35 countries, including one from the UAE: "Henna," directed by Saleh Karama.

"It was a real challenge trying to achieve a true balance between East and West in our programming due to the sheer excellence in submissions from both this part of the world and beyond," programming director Jon Fitzgerald said. "Our viewing committee and programrs have viewed more than 1,000 films to get to where we are at in finalizing the slate."

Tunisian director Nacer Khemir also will be honored during MEIFF with a screening on the 60th anniversary of his film "Touaq al Hammama al Mafqoud." In addition, a photography exhibition will honor Egyptian director Youssef Chahine, the first of its kind since his death in July 2007.

The fest will close Oct. 19 with Ridley Scott's terrorist thriller "Body of Lies," set in Jordan and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe.

MEIFF is a project of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and aims to introduce international filmmakers to the resources of the region. The festival, which last year attracted Hollywood heavyweights including Harvey Weinstein and Paul Haggis, hopes to build on that success and promote Abu Dhabi as a regional center for film.