Dinner and a movie?

In Communicate, Marketing, Opinion, Published journalism on November 22, 2010 at 11:22 pm

The UAE’s latest film fest needs to fit in with other regional events, not ignore them

Originally published in Communicate, November 2007

If the Oscars is a fine five-course meal cooked with the best ingredients from around the world in a professional kitchen by accomplished master chefs, the awards ceremony for the inaugural Middle East International Film Festival was an attempt to create the same effect with supermarket own-brand tins, a two-burner hob and a stained Jamie Oliver book. It was an admirable try, and thoroughly enjoyable, but a little singed around the edges.

The black-tie event in the auditorium of the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi was graced by trendy young filmmakers wearing black ties. With black suits. And trainers. Communicate spotted only one tuxedoed guest. And one with a cravat.

After a late start – due to “technical difficulties” – the ceremony got underway. There was an impressively choreographed history of film for entertainment. Then people tripped up on their way to the podium. More stumbled trying to read the names of prizewinners. There were dedications, there was applause, there were orgies of air-kissing. There were also missing recipients, forgotten names, unprepared speeches.

The meal was merrily devoured, even if it didn’t come out quite like the illustration in the cookbook. But while the chef had his back turned, there were mutterings that the dinner party was an exercise in one-upmanship.

From a festival that, in name at least, claims to be regional, you would expect at least a nod to the nearby Dubai International Film Festival (not to mention the Cairo International Film Festival). Instead, MEIFF and DIFF are studiously ignoring each other.

In the UAE there might be room for two cooks in the kitchen, as long as they don’t step on each other’s toes. With an admirable focus on financing – bringing Hollywood experts in, providing insight and guidance into movie money, and hearing pitches for a $100,000 new-director’s grant – MEIFF may be better concentrating on the raw ingredients of fresh talent, leaving DIFF to arrange the final creations on a plate and serve it to audiences. But at the moment, the competing festivals are endangering the integrity of the local industry and leaving a bad taste in the mouths of cinephiles.


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