The fifth edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival came to a close this weekend in the namesake capital of the United Arab Emirates. French production “Chicken With Plums,” from comicbook artists and directors Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, took home the festival’s top award, the Black Pearl for Best Feature, which comes with $100,000 in prize money.
2011 was the third year under former Tribeca topper Peter Scarlet and his team, whose challenge is balancing local audience expectations while ensuring the event’s regional and global relevance.
With Cairo and Damascus out of the running this year, the festival was the first of the fall’s major festivals of the Arab world to kick off, before Doha, which starts this week, and Dubai, which takes place in December.
The competition presented a mix of world and regional cinema (see Christian Gaines earlier dispatch from the fest), which is also reflected in the somewhat odd repartition of the festival’s Black Pearl awards. For example, the Best Director nod has to go to a filmmaker “from the Arab World,” which this year was (very deservedly) won by Ismaël Ferrouki, whose “Free Men,” a Toronto world premiere, also delighted local audiences.
Like “Chicken With Plums,” a fantasy tale set in a pre-revolution Iran, “Men” was an international production that involved a lot of French money and had a theme that resonated with local audiences: The Muslim resistance to Nazis in wartime Paris. The film stars “A Prophet’s” Tahar Rahim and Michael Lonsdale, of “Of Gods and Men.”
The Golden Bear-winning drama “A Separation,” from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, won the Special Jury Prize. It is also Iran’s submission for the Foreign Language Oscar category. The director was in town as well for a special event during which he received the Variety Middle East Filmmaker of the Year Award.
Oren Moverman’s second film, “Rampart,” also got a deserved bit of attention after its somewhat anonymous premiere in Toronto and a competition spot in San Sebastian. In Abu Dhabi, it bagged the Best Actor prize for Woody Harrelson, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role in Moverman’s first film, “The Messenger.” “Rampart also again stars Harrelson’s “Messenger” co-star, Ben Forster in another unrecognizable role.
The female equivalent, Best Actress, went to the extraordinary Jayashree Basavaraj for her portrayal of an elderly Indian widow who befriends a South African orphan in Avie Luthra’s “Lucky,” a potent South African drama that also premiered in Toronto and gives a really good idea of how racially diverse the country really is, and how prejudice and love can be found in all layers of society.
Another South African feature, “Skeem,” from director Timothy Greene, won the festival’s Audience Award. The film is a madcap farce about holidaymakers and smalltime crooks who all try to get their hands on a box of cash at a holiday resort.
Sundance documentary “The Last Mountain,” directed by Bill Haney, won the Our World jury award for Best Feature. Best Documentary of the Documentary competition went to IDFA winner “Position Among the Stars,” the closing part of director Leonard Retel Helmrich Indonesia trilogy.
The Narrative Competition jury was headed by Syrian filmmaker Nabil Maleh, and also included French actress Marianne Denicourt, British producer Lucinda Englehart, Egyptian actress Laila Eloui, Egyptian actress and Dutch director George Sluizer.
The awards ceremony took place at the luxurious, waterfront-set Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel, where Tilda Swinton, in town for just 12 hours to promote “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” received the festival’s Black Pearl Career Excellence Award, an honor that had earlier in the week also been bestowed on another chameleonic Brit: filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, whose “Trishna” with Freida Pinto was part of the competition as well.
British actor Rupert Friend (“The Young Victoria”) was also in town to present a short film he directed, the comedy “Steve,” which stars two masters of the Stiff Upper Lip School of British Acting: Colin Firth and Keira Knightley.
2011 Abu Dhabi Film Festival winners:
Best Narrative Film: “Chicken with Plums,” Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud (France, Germany, Belgium)
Special Jury Award: “A Separation,” directed by Asghar Farhadi (Iran)
Best Director from the Arab World: Ismael Ferroukhi, “Free Men” (France, Morocco)
Best Producer from the Arab World: Ziad Hamzeh and Ridha Behi, “Always Brando” (Tunisia)
Best Actor: Woody Harrelson, “Rampart” (USA)
Best Actress: Jayashree Basavaraj, “Lucky” (South Africa)
Jury Special Mention: Soufia Issami, Mouna Bahmad, Nouza Akel and Sara Betioui, actresses, “On the Edge” (Morocco, France, Germany, UAE)
New Horizons Competition
Best Film: “Stories Only Exist When Remembered,” directed by Julie Murat (Brazil, Argentina, France)
Special Jury Award: “Alms for a Blind Horse,” directed by Gurvinder Singh (India)
Best Director from the Arab World: Amr Salama, “Asma’a” (Egypt)
Best Producer from the Arab World: Souney Kadouh, “This Narrow Place” (Lebanon, USA)
Best Actor: Maged El Kedwany, “Asma’a” (Egypt)
Best Actress (split prize): Memona Mohamed, “Tears of Sand” (Spain)
and Sonia Guedes, “Stories Exist Only When Remembered” (Brazil, Argentina, France)
Best Documentary: “Position Among the Stars,” directed by Leonard Retel Helmrich (Netherlands)
Special Jury Award: “The Tiniest Place,” directed by Tatiana Huezo (Mexico)
Best New Director: Gemma Atwal, “Marathon Boy” (India, UK, USA)
Best Director from the Arab World: Safinez Bousbia, “El Gusto” (France, Algeria, Ireland, UAE)
Best Producer from the Arab World: Film Clinic, “Tahrir 2011: The Good, the Bad and the Politician” (Egypt, UAE)
Our World award for Best Film: “The Last Mountain,” directed by Bill Haney (USA)
Audience Choice Award: “Skeem,” directed by Timothy Greene (South Africa)
NETPAC Award: “Marathon Boy,” directed by Gemma Atwal
FIPRESCI Prize: “El Gusto,” directed by Safinez Bousbia (France, Algeria, Ireland, UAE)