bu Dhabi isn’t exactly a superlative city, save, perhaps, for its interest in superlatives. As the glitzy, modern capital of the UAE, a country that gained independence only 40 years ago, Abu Dhabi is an exceptionally recent invention, having constructed much of its air-conditioned environment within the past five years. While it can’t claim distinction through ancient cultural heritage, it has aggressively tried to make up the difference through grandiose titles designating things as largest, tallest, or most opulent. Take, for example, the Emirates Palace Hotel, the most expensive hotel in the world, and site of last year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival, or, the plasma signs in the Marina Mall prominently displayed during the fest, which read “Guinness World Record Achievement for Road Safety Awareness,” whatever that means. Sadly, many of the honors have ceded to neighboring Dubai or Doha, including, at the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, what used to be the largest (and, possibly, the most bedazzled) chandelier. Luckily the mega-mosque can still lay claim to the world’s largest rug.
Flanking the city’s long boulevards and seaside Corniche with cheerful flags, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, now in its fifth year, is one of the city’s most treasured events. Along with the projects at Saadiyat Island, where a campus for NYU Abu Dhabi recently opened and construction is currently underway for the Guggenheim and the Louvre, these ambitious undertakings loudly telegraph the kind of cultural cache the city seeks, or as some see it, import. Where it concerns the festival, this means Hollywood glamour, miles of red carpet, and yes, “the world’s largest open air cinema.”
Read Genevieve Yue’s entire article on the 2011 Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
Photo above: from the film On the Edge.