MEIFF 2009

We pick the eye-catching films from this year's MEIFF

Pelin Esmer
Pelin Esmer
Mohamed Al-Daradji
Mohamed Al-Daradji
Teri McLuhan
Teri McLuhan
Frontier Ghandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch For Peace
Frontier Ghandhi: Badshah Khan, A Torch For Peace
Red Riding Trilogy
Red Riding Trilogy
The Men Who Stare At Goats
The Men Who Stare At Goats
The September Issue
The September Issue
The September Issue
The September Issue
Wild Grass
Wild Grass
Wild Grass
Wild Grass
About Elly
About Elly
Precious
Precious
Cooking With Stella
Cooking With Stella
Huacho
Huacho
The Time That Remains
The Time That Remains
Dir Michael Winterbottom
Dir Michael Winterbottom
Dir Michael Moore
Dir Michael Moore
Mighty Like A Moose
Mighty Like A Moose
Shorts
Shorts
Sussan Deyhim
Sussan Deyhim
1/21

10 to 11
Pelin Esmer is one of Turkey’s most promising young directors. She tells Time Out why her latest film strikes a chord close to home
Turkish director Pelin Esmer arrives in the capital on a high. Her debut feature film, 10 to 11, scooped a slew of awards in Europe and now it comes to MEIFF with the anticipation of doing the same. It is the story of passionate Istanbuli collector, Mithat, who is forced to enlist the help of the concierge of his building to save his collection from destruction. Pelin admits that it is a character deeply inspired by her uncle: ‘He is one of the most interesting men I have ever met. I made a documentary about him to get closer to his world and his idea of collecting in 2002, but this only led to more and more questions in my mind.’

For the film, she needed a foil for Mithat’s eccentricity; it comes in the form of the concierge, Ali. ‘He is a totally different man from a very different background, a different world with different dreams,’ she says. ‘In their relationship the issue is of a search for security in life: where we search for it, why we fight for it. In the film, Mithat finds it right in the heart of his collections; for Ali, it is in a life with his family, from which he has long been separated. They search for the same thing but find it in different places.’

It marks a stark departure from Pelin’s previous effort, Oyun, a documentary following a group of rural Turkish women who set out to put on a village play. But this was never an issue, she says: ‘Of course filming this was different from the documentary experience – I had a script and both limited time and money; this brings with it stress, but also more control.’

She also believes that the two are not so different in spirit. ‘In both films, my characters are struggling because they are genuinely different, not because they want to be different but because they are – and they have to pay for it in life. They are brave enough to choose and fight for what they want. I have great respect for those people in life.’ It is something she clearly associates with: According to Pelin, filmmaking requires similar qualities and ‘a metabolism for not giving up’. If so, 10 to 11 is a truly fine vindication for her efforts and a genuine contender for the festival.
Gareth Clark
Cinestar, Oct 9, 9.45pm; Oct 11 (3.45pm)
Star Pick

Son of Babylon
Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji found inspiration close to home for his new film Son of Babylon. He tells Time Out Abu Dhabi why it’s a film everyone should see...
So what’s Son of Babylon all about?
It’s about an Iraqi woman from the north who travels with her grandson to the south (Baghdad) after the end of the Saddam’s regime to search for her son, who has been missing since 1991.

Being from Iraq yourself, have you heard similar tales?
The story was inspired by my auntie. She had lost her son in the Iraqi-Irani war and we don’t know what happened to him. He was taken by the Iraqi Special Intelligence Police, or someone, and when I was a child, whenever we’d have a happy occasion – a wedding, birthday or anything – I would see my auntie, my mother and the other women get together and cry. I was so small, I always wondered what happened. In 2003, I was walking on a street in Baghdad and I heard in the news about a mass grave discovered around Babylon. I listened and thought about my auntie, then I wrote this story.

Is sounds like a very personal tale…
This is not just a movie. We talk about people I know, friends and family, the millions of people gone missing in the last 40 years in Iraq; there are still people going missing now. This story has been forgotten in the past four years because of the chaos that’s happening in Iraq. We talk about 275 discoveries of mass graves after the fall of Saddam. We talk about 400,000 unidentified bodies discovered in Iraq for which there is no laboratory to identify their bodies. I call them the forgotten genocide.

In making your last film, a number of your crew were kidnapped or imprisoned. Is it easier to film in Iraq now?
It is difficult, but it was better this time. We worked with the Iraqi Police and army. I had a foreign team, though, and we had to go to Baghdad. The British left early, the French said they’d stay, but the French embassy decided to take them out because they thought it was dangerous with it being around election time. So, in the end, I was left with just my Iraqi crew.

You mention the election, but you avoid politics in your films. Is this not difficult to achieve?
It is very difficult. What happens in Iraq is a lot of media is funded by political organisations and all of them have certain agendas. When you see the film you will see there is no political agenda. There is no mention of politics, just a human story. There is no difference between Kurd and Arab, Shia and Shiite, because all of these people have been affected by the pain of war and occupation. It’s not anti-Saddam or anti-American, or anti anyone. For example, you see a Kurd walking together with an Arab woman: they don’t share the same language, but they share the same suffering, y’know?
Emirates Palace, Oct 9, 6.30pm; Cinestar, Oct 10, 4pm
Star Pick

Frontier Ghandhi: Badshah Khan, a Torch for Peace
Dir Teri McLuhan
Teri McLuhan explains why it took 21 years to bring her film to the screen
It’s taken a long time for Teri McLuhan to piece together the life of Badshah Khan – by reputation, Pakistan’s answer to Ghandhi. He is a figure still not widely known in the West but, at his height, he commanded 300,000 followers leading non-violent resistance against British rule in India.

McLuhan stumbled across him, reading a book on his life back in 1987: ‘I had read only two pages when all of the electrons started shifting around me,’ she recalls. A year after this, Khan died. At the time there was heavy fighting in the Afghan war, but both sides ceased fire to allow his burial, Teri explains. Two decades later, she has finally brought his life to the screen in a mixture of interviews, documentary footage and dramatic reenactment.

But why so long? The reason for the wait was ‘fear’, she says. Oddly, not the fear of travelling to Afghanistan as a Westerner, which she did many times, but the fear that comes from a lack of knowledge. ‘Remember, in those days, hardly anyone had heard of Peshawar, let alone Jalalabad [where Khan is now buried].’ A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, his was a life full of incident, although, unlike Ghandi, he was actually once jailed by Pakistan’s authorities for his relationship with India. ‘He sacrificed all and gladly so, he once said. Here was a figure who was born Pashtun and into a warrior culture on what is now the Afghan/Pakistan border, and who has now put the planet on notice.’ With many of this year’s festival chronicling the effects of war and occupation, McLuhan’s documentary surely reminds us this isn’t something new, but that there is also a better way. A powerful work.
Gareth Clark
Cinestar, Oct 13, 6.45pm; Oct 15, 3.30pm

Red Riding Trilogy
Dir Julian Jarrold, James Marsh, Anand Tucker
Originally made for British TV, this might seem like an odd choice for the festival, but this trilogy of feature-length films, adapted from David Peace’s novels, was widely hailed as a masterpiece when it was originally shown on TV. The story follows three men (Sean Bean, Paddy Considine and David Morrissey) looking into the Yorkshire Ripper case over the course of nine years. Epic in scale, Red Riding Trilogy is part gritty noir, part morality tale, and a compelling, if emotionally gruelling, collection.
Red Riding 1974, Cinestar, Oct 9, 10pm; 1980, Cinestar, Oct 10, 10pm; 1983, Cinestar, Oct 11, 10pm

The Men Who Stare at Goats
Dir Grant Heslov

The gala screen’s closing-night film (for invitees only), journalist Jon Ronson’s caustic investigation into the US army’s adoption of New Age psych- ological techniques developed in the early ’80s and revived for the conflict in Iraq, makes a rocky transition to the big screen. Ewan McGregor plays the Ronson character, renamed Bob Wilton, who, having been dumped by his wife, decides to prove himself by heading to the Middle East in search of a story. Through a series of contrivances, he finds George Clooney’s reactivated ‘psychic spy’, Lyn Cassady, who believes he has been summoned to the Iraqi desert for a new, secret mission. Grant Heslov has gone Coens-esque on the direction front, often lunging for the quick, deadpan laugh to the detriment of the grim subtext. Ronson’s story was about paranoia and the desperate lengths that certain governments will go to in the name of national security. This is about a bunch of crazy stuff at which we can all chuckle. As that sort of movie, it works just fine.
David Jenkins
Gala: Emirates Palace, Oct 17, 8pm

The September Issue
Dir RJ Cutler

Vogue VIP Anna Wintour slinks through this highly entertaining vérité documentary like a stoic, sunglasses-bedecked doll. Director RJ Cutler follows Wintour and her staff as they plan the September 2007 issue of the magazine, which is still the largest (in terms of both size and sales) in the publication’s history. The people on display here are neither lionised nor criticised. Cutler just lets them be – and so our interest lives or dies on how fascinating we find the world they belong to. Indeed, once you’re hip to Wintour’s approach (cruelly cold and distant in the office, benevolently cold and distant at home) she becomes a fairly monotonous presence. The doc’s breakout star is Vogue creative director Grace Coddington, a former model whose frumpy clothing belies her genius for fashion. She counters her boss every chance she gets and provides a much-needed emotional centre.
Keith Uhlich
Emirates Palace, Oct 9, 9.30pm; Cinestar, Oct 10, 7.45pm
Star Pick


Wild Grass
Dir Alain Resnai

Now in his late eighties and over six decades after he made his first film, French director Alain Resnais shows no signs of having lost any of his artistic audacity. Taken from a novel by Christian Gailly entitled The Incident, his latest film explores how one small, seemingly trivial event – the theft of a woman’s purse – can lead, by the most improbable and digressive of routes, to something comparatively very substantial and significant: a matter, in fact, of lives and deaths. The purse in question belongs to dentist Marguerite (Sabine Azéma) and it is found, devoid of money and cards, by Georges (André Dussollier), who we presently learn is undergoing a particularly dramatic mid-life crisis. What’s it all about? Ageing, passion, doubt, love, pain and the whole damn thing. As light as a soufflé, yet bittersweet as chocolate, this feels like a summation of all the best things in Resnais’ career.
Geoff Andrew
Cinestar, Oct 14, 6.30pm; Grand Cinema, Oct 15, 4pm
Star Pick


Valentino: The Last Emperor
Dir Matt Tyrnauer

Tyrnauer tracks Valentino and partner from the preparation of Valentino’s 45th-anniversary collection in 2007 through a massive tribute to his career, while rumours swirl that the new corporate bosses are trying to push the brand’s creator into retirement. It’s also a bittersweet portrait of the end of fashion as art and of supreme luxury as an aspirational construct. In Valentino’s era, gowns could command top dollar because they were sewn by hand to exacting aesthetic specifications; now, middle-class shoppers can get a piece of the highest-end brands via belts and perfume. Enough said.
Karina Longworth
Cinestar, Oct 9, 7.15pm; Emirates Palace, Oct 12, 4pm


Rest of the fest

The Traveler
Dir Ahmed Maher

The return of 77-year-old Omar Sharif, a name to make ladies of a certain age swoon, marks one of the more dramatic comebacks this MEIFF. Set against the backdrop of key moments in Egypt’s recent history, Sharif plays Hassan, a lost, ageing man who bumps into an old flame and attempts to become part of her family. As a parable for modern Egypt, it has the critics drooling, but the performance by Sharif is surely the star of the show.
Gala: Emirates Palace, Oct 8, 8pm; Cinestar, Oct 9, 6.30pm

Precious
Dir Lee Daniels

Given the backing of African-American royalty Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey, the success of Precious (which scooped the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance) was not as unexpected as it might have been. Far more surprising is the presence of both Mariah Carey and Lenny Kravitz in cameo roles. Given the dramatic nature of the film – an obese black American teenager, twice impregnated by her father, rails against her abusive mother – it is hardly the stuff of celebrity walk-ons. Yet Lee ‘Monster’s Ball’ Daniels’ film withstands the hoo-ha and bumbling musicians to be utterly harrowing and a definite must-see.
Cinestar, Oct 12, 6.30pm; Oct 15, 9.15pm

About Elly
Dir Asghar Farhadi

Having picked up Best Picture at this year’s Tribeca, much is expected of Iranian director Farhadi’s tale of a college reunion trip gone wrong. It stars Golshifteh Farahani in her first film to be screened in Iran since her appearance in the contentious Body of Lies (after which it was rumoured she was prevented from leaving Iran by the authorities). She plays Sepidah, who brings along her daughter’s kindergarten teacher, Elly, for the trip, but, when he goes missing, suspicion and half truths derail the fun.
Emirates Palace, Oct 15, 4pm; Cinestar, Oct 17, 3.45pm
Star Pick

Cooking with Stella
Dir Dilip Mehta

Since the overwhelming success of Slumdog Millioniare, the prospect of an East-West breakout hit doesn’t seem so unlikely and this warmhearted social satire has the makings of a small classic. It revolves around a Canadian diplomat (Lisa Ray) and her chef husband Michael (Don McKellar), who are posted to New Delhi. Upon arrival they inherit a household of Indian servants headed by the inspiring – and light-fingered – cook, Stella (Seema Biswas). She soon agrees to become the husband’s Indian cooking guru; however her plans are threatened when an honest nanny joins the house. A gentle comic drama with plenty of charm, much is expected of Mehta’s latest.
Emirates Palace, Oct 11, 9.30pm; Cinestar, Oct 15, 9.45pm

Huacho
Dir Alejandro Fernandez Almendras

Forget magical realism, the new vogue in Latin cinema is a stroke-for-stroke Joycean naturalism. Film critic turned filmmaker Almendras’ debut is packed with sun-kissed South American charm. It follows the daily lives of a rural Chilean family: the grandmother making cheese on the farm, the mother working at a rural tourism hotel, her son being alternately ignored or teased at school. Just don’t expect a thrill ride.
Cinestar, Oct 10, 3.15pm; Oct 12, 7pm

The Informant
Dir Steven Soderbergh

Soderbergh returns to ‘true story’ territory, a la Erin Brockovich, in this tale of the ‘highest ranking corporate whistleblower in US history’. Matt Damon plays the aforementioned stoolpigeon, but in selling out his agri-industry bosses, his embellishments threaten the FBI’s case. Planned for seven years but filmed in just over 30 days, opinions differ as to the merits of Steven Soderberg’s often anal experiments in filmmaking, but this looks like a potential return to form.
Gala: Emirates Palace, Oct 12, 9.30pm; Cinestar, Oct 16, 9.45pm

The Warrior and the Wolf
Dir Tian Zhuang-Zhuang

Given that Tian was banned from making films for a decade in China after his excellent The Blue Kite, perhaps a move away from his meditative style was somewhat necessitated. Certainly, this richly emotive historical action pic about a brave soldier and a widow who has the power to take him to a place of legends provides stark contrast. However, it looks simply stunning.
Emirates Palace, Oct 16, 6.30pm; Cinestar, Oct 17, 1pm

No One Knows About Persian Cats
Dir Bahman Ghobadi

With Iran increasingly becoming the festival’s favourite muse, this daring film takes a slantwise look at the illegal world of Tehran’s independent music scene. It follows Negar and Ashkan, young musicians who find that pursuing their art is near-impossible on home soil and they soon forge plans to escape. Gritty and fast-paced, it paints a vivid portrait of this hidden world.
Emirates Palace, Oct 15, 7pm; Cinestar, Oct 16, 6.45pm

White Material
Dir Claire Denis

In an unnamed African country torn by civil war, a white French woman (Isabelle Huppert) refuses to abandon her plantation, despite French nationals being urged to flee. French director Claire Denis marshals beautiful but troubling images to explore the intensely emotional world of post-colonial Africa. It’s been a long time since we saw Christophe ‘There can be only one’ Lambert (Highlander) in a good film, but we look forward to his renaissance.
Cinestar, Oct 10, 9.45pm; Grand Cinema, Oct 11, 7pm

Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story
Dir Yousry Nasrallah

A surprisingly forthright critique of male chauvinism in the Middle East, Egyptian director Nasrallah’s taboo-breaking film reportedly scandalised Egypt with its risky portrait of female sexual desire. The film borrows the story-within-a-story framework of Arabian Nights, but uses it to paint several female tales of woe striking the Egyptian male ego right where it hurts. Go sister!
Gala: Emirates Palace, Oct 15, 10pm; Cinestar, Oct 16, 9pm

The Messenger
Dir Oren Moverman

Moverman was the screenwriter behind hit-and-miss Dylan biopic I’m Not There; but in his directorial debut he tackles more harrowing concerns. The story focuses on Ben Foster’s Iraq war veteran, who faces the emotional minefield of civilians dealing with the death of a loved one. It has already picked up awards at the Deauville Film festival; we expect it to be a hit here, too.
Gala: Emirates Palace, Oct 10, 9,30pm; Grand Cinema, Oct 16, 7pm

The Time that Remains
Dir Elia Suleiman

A semi-biographic film divided into four historic episodes spanning from 1948 (the creation of Israel state), Suleiman’s first film since his Divine Inspiration scooped best film at Cannes in 2002, promises much. Inspired by his father’s diaries from when he was a resistant fighter, and by his mother’s letters to family members, the film attempts to portray the daily lives of those Palestinians who remained in Israel.
Emirates Palace, Oct 13, 6.30pm; Cinestar, Oct 16, 3.45pm
Star Pick

The Shock Doctrine
Dir Michael Winterbottom

Brit director Winterbottom adapts Naomi Klein’s bestseller in a documentary that looks at ‘disaster capitalism’: the idea that US capitalism sneaks through its free-market agenda on the back of natural and manmade catastrophes. Interestingly, it was reported that Klein recently disowned the doc by asking for her credits to be removed. Liberal hissy fits aside, it looks to be a shrewed counterpoint to the crowd-baiting of Moore’s latest.
Emirates Palace, Oct 11, 4pm; Cinestar, Oct 14, 6pm

Capitalism: A Love Story
Dir Michael Moore

Beaten to the documentary punch at Venice by Oliver Stone’s latest, Michael Moore offers his own polemic on capitalism. Returning to the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans, his trademark approach (his sardonic humour letting you feel like you’re in on the joke) asks what price America must pay for its love of capitalism and takes his battle to the ordinary disgruntled man on the street.
Gala: Emirates Palace, Oct 16, 9.30pm; Cinestar, Oct 17, 2.30pm


Talk of the town

Silent witnesses
It’s not all about the latest flicks to hit the screens. Check out the selection of silent comedies coming to the festival. See films like Buster Keaton’s One Week, Chaplin’s The Immigrant and Charley Chase’s Mighty Like a Moose. There will even be a live pianist at each performance to add a bit of atmosphere.
Cinestar, October 16, 4pm.

For the kids
There will be plenty of family fun prior to the 4pm screening of Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts on October 10 at Emirates Palace. Other films suitable for little ones include Hayao Miyazaki’s anime masterpiece Ponyo (Cinestar, Oct 9, 3.30pm; Grand Cinema, Oct 10, 7pm ) and Oceans (Emirates Palace, Oct 13; Cinestar, Oct 16, 9.30pm), a wondrous undersea documentary. For more information go to www.meiff.com or email francesca@meiff.com.

Master minds
A series of free masterclasses devoted to celebrated film composers will be held daily at Emirates Palace from October 12-15, including composer-performer Sussan Deyhim and Richard Horowitz on Middle Eastern influence on film scores (Oct 12, 11am), Neil Brand on silent films (Oct 15, 11am) and Paolo Cherchi Usai on preserving the film heritage of the Arab World (Oct 14, 11am).

Celeb spotters
Upon going to press, we were handed a list of expected celebs bucking to set the capital alight this month. Those confirmed include Oscar winners Hilary Swank and Vanessa Redgrave. The rumours are that maybe two more Oscar stars will be arriving, but our lips are sealed. We’ll see you on the red carpet.

Need to know…

Where: Screenings take place at Emirates Palace, Cinestar at Marina Mall and the Grand Cinema at Abu Dhabi Mall.

Getting there: A free shuttle bus is running throughout the festival between the three cinemas, as well as the InterContinental Hotel at 15- and 30-minute intervals from 8am-2am and 2pm-2am (between Marina Mall and Abu Dhabi Mall).

Tickets: General screenings cost Dhs20; gala screenings at Emirates Palace, Dhs30. Students and seniors (over 65) pay Dhs10 (ID needed). Festival passes costs Dhs200. Tickets available at www.meiff.com

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