Middle East film festival sets lineup

Second annual event to screen more than 100 films

More than 60 films from 32 countries have been signed in for the official competition at this year's Middle East International Film Festival that is due to run Oct. 10-19.

About 138 films will be screened with titles coming from East to West -- up from 80 films in MEIFF's inaugural festival in 2007. This year's competition includes features, documentaries, shorts and student films in four separate categories.

"I am pleased to say that MEIFF 2008 has attracted some of the top films, filmmakers and distinguished industry guests from all corners of the world, and we are honored to host them in Abu Dhabi," MEIFF vice chairman Mohamed Khalaf Al Mazrouei said.

"The official competition is the place to be at MEIFF to see up-and-coming films and premieres from across the globe," MEIFF director Nashwa Al Ruwaini said. "These films should be the first stop for cinema lovers in Abu Dhabi. Among our many world and regional premieres, the In Competition feature films "O'Horten" (Norway) and "Mermaid" (Russia) have both been submitted for the Oscar for best foreign-language film."

The festival's Black Pearl cash prize distributed to the winners, along with a trophy, has been increased this year with prizes totaling more than $1 million. Jon Fitzgerald, MEIFF's director of programming, noted: "With an expanded festival in 2008, it was logical to increase the number of films in competition."

The narrative competition features 15 films, seven of which are world premieres and two regional premieres. Among the films premiering are Samir Habachi's "Beirut: Open City" (Lebanon), Magdi Ahmed Ali's "Fawzia: A Special Blend" (Egypt), Saleh Karama's "Henna" (UAE) and the much-anticipated Rashid Masharawi's "Laila's Birthday" making its regional premiere.

Among the international films competing in the festival are Ayten Mutlu Saray's "Zara" (Switzerland, Austria, Netherlands, Kurdistan) marking its world premiere, Alexander Melnik's "Terra Nova" (Russia) making its regional premiere and Indian Girish Kasaravalli's "Gulabi Talkies."

Films participating in the documentary competition include "Seven Blind Filmmakers" (Iran), directed by Mohammed Shirvani; "Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love" (Senegal, Egypt, France), directed by Elisabeth Chai Vasarhelyi; and "Man on Wire" (U.K., U.S.), directed by James Marsh.

In the category of short films, 30 films from 21 countries will compete to win the prestigious Black Pearl. The shorts program is divided into four sections, Aspects of Life, A World of Youth, Middle East Vision and Animation and Experimental. Featured short films include "Sometimes" (Egypt), directed by Mahmoud Soliman; "Boxing Lesson (Romania), directed by Alexandru Marrodinue; "Breadmakers" (U.K.), directed by Yasmin Fedda, "Boutellisse" (Tunisia), directed by Nasreddinee Shili; and "The Graffiti of Mister Tupaia" (New Zealand), directed by Christopher Dudman.

The 17 student films in the competition include "Ali the Iraqi" (Lebanon), directed by Vatche Boulghourjian; "Kate Wakes" (USA), directed by Jasmine Kosovic; "The Morning With Other Eye" (Russia), directed by Philipp Yurev; "Ya Halawood" (Jordan), directed by Students of Workshop by Amman Filmmakers Cooperative.