News Column

Iraq wins big at Abu Dhabi Film Festival

November 1, 2013


Nov. 01--ABU DHABI -- Iraqi filmmakers came out at the top of the numbers race Thursday evening as the competition component of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival wound down with a glittering ceremony at the Emirates Palace Hotel. Three Iraqi-born writer-directors walked away with prestigious prizes in the festival's Narrative Feature and New Horizons competitions.

The evening got off to a glamorous start when Palestinian actor Hiam Abbass was awarded ADFF's Black Pearl Career Achievement Award. Abbass came to the attention of the art house scene starring in "Satin Rouge," Raja Amari's 2002 feature, in which she played the inscrutable Lila, who after taking a job in a Tunisian cabaret has an affair with the man she knows to be her daughter's secret lover.

Still in the midst of a busy career -- ADFF showcased her new film this year and she was also on the Narrative Competition jury -- Abbass has 60-odd acting credits and is now working on Ridley Scott's latest historical epic.

Top honors in ADFF's Narrative Feature Competition went to "A Touch of Sin," by Chinese writer-director Jia Zhangke. Though not an obvious winner, Jia's work -- comprised of four stories of social dislocation and violence, derived from contemporary news reports from around China -- also took the Best Screenplay prize after its premiere at Cannes this past spring.

The Special Jury Award (runner-up) prize went to Iraq-Kurdish-born Hiner Saleem for his Western-inflected, Kurdistan-set "My Sweet Pepper Land." The film was made with assistance from ADFF's SANAD film fund.

The Best Film from the Arab World prize went to "In the Sands of Babylon," a SANAD-supported docudrama by Mohamed Jabarah al-Daradji, who is also Iraqi. Though the film left some audience members teary-eyed after its world premiere at the Emirates Palace, the award was a baffling choice for several critics. Driven by the narrative conventions of Arabic television drama, the movie's unremitting, aggressive sentimentality, it has been argued, does more to debase the memory of the Iraqi people's tragedy than it does to commemorate it.

The prize for Best Director from the Arab World went to veteran Algerian auteur Merzak Allouache for "The Rooftops," which has been lauded as one of his best films in years. The film also took the prize from FIPRESCI, The International Federation of Film Critics, for narrative features.

The jury of the New Horizons Competition, which focuses on the work of international first- and second-time directors, handed its Black Pearl Award to Uberto Pasolini's "Still Life." "Blind Dates," by Levan Koguashvili, took a Special Jury Award.

New Horizons' Best Arab Film prize went to another Iraqi, Hisham Zaman, for his "Before Snowfall," an unconventional road movie about a young man dispatched to defend his family's honor by killing his sister.

New Horizons' Special Jury Award for an Arab Film went to "Villa 69," the debut feature of Egyptian writer-director Ayten Amin. Beautifully filmed and featuring some amusing characterization -- not least that of Khaled Abol Naga, the boyish male lead, cast in the unlikely role of a grumpy grandfather figure -- the film suffers a bit of story bloat. It is, however, SANAD-funded.

In ADFF's Documentary Feature Competition, the jury awarded the Black Pearl Award, in memory of Jake Ebert, for Best Documentary Film to "These Birds Walk," directed by Omar Mullick and Bassem Tariq. A Special Jury Award went to director Marc Silver's "Who Is Dayani Cristal?"

The prize for Best Film from the Arab World went to Sherief Elkatsha's "Cairo Drive." The prize for Best Arab Director went to Tunis' Hamza Aouni for his SANAD-funded doc "El Gort," which also won the FIPRESCI prize for docs.


(c)2013 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)

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