Middle East film fest rolls out red carpet

Second annual event getting under way Friday

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- The stars of Hollywood, Arab cinema and Bollywood will mingle on the red carpet Friday as the Middle East International Film Festival kicks off its second edition.

The regional premiere of Rian Johnson's "The Brothers Bloom" will open the fest, with star Adrien Brody in attendance. Other celebs confirmed for opening-night festivities at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace include Antonio Banderas, Melanie Griffith and former Miss World and Bollywood icon Priyanka Chopra.

More than 130 films from 35 countries will screen during the festival's 10-day run, with more than 60 films competing for the Black Pearl Awards, which features a prize fund of more than $1 million.

"MEIFF has positioned itself as one of the most important regional cinema events in a relatively short span of time," MEIFF vice chairman Mohamed Khalaf Al Mazrouei said. "We believe this year's festival differentiates itself from others with its unique program of film initiatives, aimed at establishing the nation's capital as a center of excellence for filmmaking and development."

The festival is an important jewel in the crown of the local government's drive to make Abu Dhabi a regional film hub. Little more than a busy oil city a few years ago, over the past few years the capital of the United Arab Emirates has been increasingly keen to promote itself as a center for culture and the arts.

A New York Film school has been open here since 2007, and the second edition of film financing event the Circl took place earlier in the week with participants including Spike Lee and Fox Filmed Entertainment head Jim Gianopulos.

Earlier this year, it was announced that Imagenation, a film unit of the Abu Dhabi Media Co., would spend $1 billion developing content for the global and Arabic markets, and several new initiatives are set to be announced over the coming days. The seemingly endless petrodollars are being ploughed into creating a globally important city, which until recently didn't even have its own English-language newspaper.

The fest features a number of special events including a two-day panel discussion that will feature actresses Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon and will be chaired by Cinema Verite founder Joel Soler and MEIFF director Nashwa Al Ruwaini. The program culminates in a ceremony honoring actress-activist Jane Fonda.

Other elements of the festival include a retrospective of Palestinian films by non-Arab directors, a focus on Arab female directors, a program of environmental films and a Research Circle consisting of daily discussions about the state of the Arab world's film industry.

In addition, special tributes to Arab filmmaking icons Nacer Khemir and the late Youssef Chahine also will take place.

The festival ends Oct. 19.