My top 20 picks for Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2010

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival will begin next week, from 14th-23rd October. There are over 170 films in this year's festivals, including short and full length feature films, documentaries, restored silent films and some avant garde titles.

Here are my top 20 picks for the festival. You will notice there's a strong presence of movies about photography and travel in the list, but that's because if you know me by now, these are high on my list of interests.

I have not included any of the short films as there are too many to go through, besides, I always prefer not to know the stories in advance when it comes to short films. I have also excluded some popular titles that are touring the film festival circuit, mainly because they clash with other movies I want to watch and in the case of Let me In, I refuse to watch the US version till I see the original Swedish version, Let the right one in first.

Let me know if you have your own list and see you at the movies.

Children of the Stones - Children of the Wall

Twenty years after his 1989 film Intifada, Robert Krieg returns to Bethlehem with a photograph in hand: six boys posing for the camera, victorious. Children of the Stones – Children of the Wall sees Krieg tracking down those same boys, thus illuminating two decades of the situation in Palestine. Now leading productive lives, the film’s subjects still reside in a much-changed Bethlehem, where Israel’s Security Wall is a constant reminder that there is no new normal in Palestine. Schedule and ticket information.

The Mummy / The Night of Counting the Years (Al Momia)

The most famous of Egyptian auteur films and one credited with contributing to the shaping of Egyptian cinematic national identity, The Mummy’s ritualistic atmosphere is beautifully calibrated by Shabi Abdel Salam, in this restored print. The film tells of a fatal predicament facing the ancient Horbat tribe, setting a deadly moral dilemma at Deir al-Bahari, the site of the discovery of the legendary cache of royal mummies in 1881. The exteriors, filmed exclusively at dawn and dusk, lend the film an eerie, evocative quality. Schedule and ticket information.

Silent Souls (Ovsyanki)

The rites and rituals of the Merja people, an ethnic minority once resident in the Volga region of Russia, form the backbone of this lyrical, dreamlike movie about love and loss. After his beloved wife Tanja dies, Miron calls on his best friend, Aist, to help him in his final farewell. As the ravishingly photographed story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Aist and Tanja were once more than friends. Along the way, the Merja myths and traditions transform the film into a haunting fairy tale. Schedule and ticket information.

Kingdom of Women

This documentary is an enchanting ode to the resilience, intelligence and valor of Palestinian women from Ain el-Hilweh. The largest refugee camp in Lebanon, it has endured war and destruction through several Israeli invasions and the long-drawn-out Lebanese civil war. In recording the lived experiences of generations of mothers, daughters, sisters and wives, director Dahna Abourahme collaborates with illustrator and animation artist Lena Merhej to produce a visually poetic register of a history doomed to remain oral. Schedule and ticket information.

Women are Heroes

For three years, French photographer and street artist JR travelled through communities in Brazil, Kenya, India and Cambodia, meeting and photographing the women who are often the first victims of war and the last to be considered in peacetime. In the resulting film, he documents the reactions to his large-scale images, which infiltrate public spaces. But he also focuses on people in interviews that are as amazingly full of life as his photos. Ambitious, deeply empathetic and gorgeously shot, Women Are Heroes is a mosaic of experiences honoring the will of communities to build, and finding joy beyond struggle. Schedule and ticket information.


Set in a colorfully wacky version of 1977, Potiche gives Catherine Deneuve one of her best roles in a decade as a trophy wife-turned-triumphant-factory boss in this sparkling adaptation of a French boulevard-theater play. Deneuve plays Suzanna Pujol, a well-off housewife in thrall to tyrannical husband Robert (Fabrice Luchini). When labour trouble erupts at the provincial umbrella factory that Suzanna’s father founded and Robert is taken hostage, Suzanna calls in her communist former lover Babin (Gerard Depardieu) to negotiate with the workers. Schedule and ticket information.

The Life of Fish (La vida de los peces)

The Life of Fish is a contained, intimate film about a traveler who does not belong anywhere. Andrés, a travel writer living in Berlin, has briefly returned home to Chile, where he attends a friend’s birthday party. This celebration serves as the film’s only setting; in a quiet but penetrating and emotional 83 minutes of real time, Andrés says goodbye to old friends, reflects on fate and commitment – and confronts the love of his life. Schedule and ticket information.

Al Yazerli (Al-Yazerli)

The yazerli is the foreman who provides work to day laborers. This film’s poetic, non-narrative structure simulates the mind of a young boy forced to leave school and find work on the docks. Al-Yazerli spans the length of his workday, using minimal dialogue and evocative music and sounds. The filmmaker uncovers the imaginary world of a boy whose destiny seems bound to poverty and manual labor, and the physical harshness and repressed sexuality of his daily life become poignantly tangible. Schedule and ticket information.

Certified Copy (Copie Conforme)

As resistant to facile interpretation as any of his other work, Kiarostami’s first narrative effort in years is also his first made outside Iran and his first film with a bona-fide movie star. Juliette Binoche was honored as Best Actress at the Cannes Film Festival (where the film premiered last May) for her performance as a French-born gallery owner who encounters an English author who has come to Tuscany to promote his book on originals and copies in art. Their encounter isn’t really a romantic comedy but rather an always-playful glance at how men and women relate to each other. Schedule and ticket information.

Bill Cunningham New York

Cycling through the streets of Manhattan, shooting with a Nikon film camera, 81-year-old Bill Cunningham is focused in his quest to capture emerging fashion trends. In his weekly columns in The New York Times, he captures the rapt attention of the fashion and society scenes, while his ascetic lifestyle is an interesting contrast to the extravagant world he is committed to representing. Bill Cunningham New York is a touching profile of a New York original. Schedule and ticket information.

To the Sea (Alamar) 

This modest, achingly beautiful and poetic tale sets the delicate interplay of parent and child against the stunning backdrop of Mexico’s Chinchorro coral reef. A recently divorced man wishes to impart his Mayan heritage to his young son before they must separate for good, so the two embark on a voyage out to sea. The amazingly unobtrusive camera captures the pair’s long sun-soaked days spent spear-fishing, and nights sleeping in the stilt-hut community of their elders. To the Sea explores with minimalist perfection the deep bonds people share with each other and with nature. Schedule and ticket information.

Zephyr (Zefir)

Turkey’s Belma Baş makes a breathtaking feature debut with Zephyr. The film’s protagonist, an eleven-year-old girl, lives in a rural wonderland in the care of her grandparents. The landscape around Zefir is unfalteringly beautiful and darkly fascinating, but she largely views it with restrained indifference. As she struggles with issues of abandonment and loss, the film eventually takes the full fathom of the devastating degree to which she has been allowed to grow up without guidance. Schedule and ticket information.

Waste Land (Lixo Extraordinario)

Waste Land is an inspirational documentary about Vik Muniz, the renowned Brazilian artist known for using non-traditional materials to create his socially conscious work. Lucy Walker’s camera follows Muniz to a massive dump outside Rio de Janiero where, working with several extraordinary catadores – locals who glean recyclable materials to survive – he creates a breathtaking installation. Muniz treats his subjects and collaborators with dignity; the palpable transformation of their consciousness by the creative process is extraordinary. Schedule and ticket information.


French director Olivier Assayas brings to the big screen a streamlined version of his masterful five-hour television production about the notorious international revolutionary and terrorist, Carlos the Jackal. It’s a dynamic, convincing and revelatory account of a wanted man’s career that creates an extraordinary you-are-there experience. Assayas’s account treads dangerous waters in covering international politics, terrorism, history, religion and sex – and handles it all with great intelligence and skill. Schedule and ticket information.

El ambulante

El Ambulante is the unlikely story of one Daniel Burmeister, a mysterious nomadic filmmaker often thought to be a legend in the Argentinian independent cinema community. Discovered in Cordoba province, Burmeister’s story proves true: he drives his crumbling car from village to village, where he proposes to make a film using the townspeople as his cast, requesting only food and lodging as payment. One month later, this culminates in a public screening of the film. El Ambulante explores Burmeister’s motives and methods, as well as the profound impression he makes on the communities left in his trail. Schedule and ticket information.


This 1927 epic – the first real science-fiction film – is one of the most famous films ever made and, until now, one of the most elusive, since it was cut to nearly half its original running time shortly after its original release. Two years ago, a nearly complete copy was discovered by chance in Buenos Aires, and this marks our first opportunity to view Fritz Lang’s masterpiece the way it was originally intended. The screening will feature a performance of Gottfried Huppertz’s original score for full orchestra. Schedule and ticket information.

I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You  

This singular film is an experimental love letter to the arid, dramatically sparse land of Brazil’s northeast. A geologist conducts a survey for a new canal that will improve the lives of many but will uproot those in its path. Along the way he confronts his own sense of abandonment, which is reflected in the landscape and in the lives affected. Strikingly composed of snapshots and footage in many formats, I Travel Because I Have To is a visceral, deeply personal blend of road-movie and travelogue. Schedule and ticket information.

A Man's Story

African in origin, superstar men’s fashion designer Ozwald Boateng has journeyed from the North London suburbs to London’s posh, iconic Savile Row. A real oddity in his industry, Boateng inhabits a vibrant, surreal world, surrounded by the jetset, colored by the lens of glamor both implied and actual. Shot over twelve years by director Varon Bonicos, A Man’s Story shows us a man in process, as well as in progress. It’s a biographical documentary as unique, layered and compelling as its subject. Schedule and ticket information.

OK, Enough, Goodbye (Tayeb, Khalas, Yalla)

Gently balanced between caustic, comic and offbeat, OK, Enough, Goodbye is an improbable coming-of-age story. In Tripoli, where family bonds run deep, a forty-something man still lives with his elderly mother and has given up on the idea of becoming independent. But when she suddenly leaves him, he is left with nothing but the company of the city and what it offers. Elegantly filmed with non-professional actors, the film delivers an unassuming, incisive – and funny – critique of masculine identity in contemporary Lebanon. Schedule and ticket information.

The Circus 

The Circus, perhaps Charlie Chaplin’s most perfect blend of hilarity and pathos, is a true miracle of comedy. We meet the Little Tramp in typical straits: broke, hungry and destined to fall in love. On a circus midway, he chows down on a stolen hot dog and is soon pursued by a policeman. A series of signature sight gags and pratfalls ensues, in counterpoint with a poignant tale of unrequited love. The quintessential Chaplin film, presented with his own musical score. Schedule and ticketing information.

All movie descriptions from the Abu Dhabi Film Festival website.