Mideast answers fest call


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Detailed plans for the inaugural Middle East International Film Festival will be unveiled Wednesday at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates capital.

The conference follows the finalizing of plans for the festival by Abu Dhabi's Authority for Culture and Heritage and the fest's executive team. It will be held Oct. 14-19 at Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace.

More than 50 regional and international films will be screened, fest director Jon Fitzgerald said in advance of the conference, from an initial selection of more than 700 entries. Final selections for the competition will be firmed up in a few days.

"We're focusing a great deal of attention on supporting emerging talent," Fitzgerald said. "We are going to award prizes in three categories, for documentary, narrative and for short film. The winning finalists will receive production grants and the overall winner will receive the prestigious Black Pearl Award."

The Black Pearl Award will be bestowed during the official competition, which focuses on international cinema with an emphasis on new artists. Recipients will be awarded production grants toward their next project. Grand jury prizes will be given out in the narrative and documentary categories, as well as in the short film competition.

Other sections in the fest include premieres, a collection of high-profile films premiering in the Middle East, and Bollywood Spotlight, a tie-in designed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of India's independence. The Middle East Showcase will spotlight films of varying lengths and genres celebrating the cultures, traditions and people of the region.

Women of Arab Cinema will take a retrospective look at the cinematic achievements of Arab women, while the cutting-edge Hayah Film Competition has been developed for iPod movies less than five minutes in length.

The event's leadership team comprises internationally respected festival veterans.

Ranked as the 20th most powerful Arab businesswoman by Forbes, Nashwa Al-Ruwaini brings two decades of experience in media leadership to her role as executive director. Fest director Fitzgerald co-founded Slamdance and was festival director of the Santa Barbara Film Festival and has more than 15 years experience in the studio, independent and film festival communities.

Managing director Claudia Durgnat has strong experience of international festival directing and producing and conference director Adrienne Briggs holds more than a decade of experience as a producer for entertainment events.

Designed to provide opportunities to those looking to invest in film, Briggs announced the Film Financing Circle. A key initiative within the event, the circle serves as a forum gathering top-level financiers and executives from the international investment and entertainment arenas.

"We really believe that the FFC will set us apart and give us a unique distinguishing feature among the thousands of film festivals," Fitzgerald said. The FFC plans to unveil InCircle Pearl, a unique pitch program designed to identify, develop and finance projects.

"I want to offer an arena where financiers, executives and filmmakers globally can meet and collaborate on film funds and co-productions," Al-Ruwaini said.

Confirmed guests for the inaugural FFC include Hyde Park CEO Ashok Amritraj and Eden Rock Media president Thomas Augsberger. They will be joined by BBC Films chief David Thompson and Anthony Beaudoin, senior vp and manager of Film Finance for Bank of Ireland.

"The Film Financing Circle presents a multi-tiered approach in raising the international entertainment community's awareness of Abu Dhabi's emergence onto the film scene," said Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority. "We look forward to creating a foundation for new possibilities in the filmmaking world here in the region."

The festival is the latest event in a wider push by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage to position the capital as a cultural hub of the region.