My top 20 picks for Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2011

Scene from Sea Shadows, directed by Nawaf Al Janahi


The 2011 edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival is on next week from 13th-22nd October. I'm looking forward to going back to Abu Dhabi again to watch as many movies as I can. Majority of the screenings will take place at VOX Cinemas at Marina Mall, but I'm very glad there will be some screenings at the charming Abu Dhabi Theatre, my favourite venue from last year. There's a new venue added to this year's edition of the festival, an open-air cinema at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr

Overall, there's a good range of titles. I've shortlisted my top 20 which you can see below. Visit to see the complete list of movies and schedule. 

Let me know what's on your list and see you at the cinema, front row and centre. 

A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin)

Loyalty, truth and honor are the issues in this absolutely gripping family drama by Asghar Farhadi (About Elly). It has riveted the attention of audiences all over the world since its triumphant premiere at Berlin, where it was named Best Film and its skilled ensemble cast received both the major acting prizes – a sweep no previous Iranian film has ever earned at a Western film festival. Schedule and ticket information.

Always Brando

After meeting young Tunisian actor Anis Raache, a dead ringer for Marlon Brando, director Ridha Behi wrote a script casting both actors. Against all odds, Brando agreed to work on the project in 2004, but he died shortly after. At once a loving elegy to cinema and a meditation on the cruelty of the film world, Always Brando presents Behi’s saga with the screen legend alongside the story of Raache, whose destiny veers toward tragedy with the promise of Hollywood fame. Schedule and ticket information.

Bobby Fischer Against The World

To many, Bobby Fischer will always be the world’s greatest chess player, but his talent is often overshadowed by his sensational legacy. Academy Award® nominated director Liz Garbus chronicles Fischer’s journey – from child prodigy to global superstar and finally to bitter recluse – as a captivating walk along the tightrope between genius and madness. A treasure trove of archival material and interviews helps illuminate a shadowy man who was ultimately destroyed by the one thing he loved.

Schedule and ticket information.

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Visionary director Werner Herzog leads us on a breathtaking journey back in time to the place where art began. The first filmmaker granted access to the site of the oldest known cave paintings in the world, Herzog exploits 3-D technology to make this astonishing archaeological find come alive in riveting detail. The 32,000-year-old drawings also provide fertile ground for earnest and often humorous reflection on our primal urge to communicate the human experience.

Schedule and ticket information.

Chicken with Plums (Poulet aux prunes)

Nasser Ali Khan (Mathieu Amalric) has a broken heart. His true love is long lost, he is stuck in a loveless marriage, and now the precious instrument he used through decades as the world's most renowned violinist has met a violent end. So Nasser Ali gets into bed and gives up. But that is only the beginning of this delirious fairy tale. Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis) adapts her popular graphic novel. With the marvelous Golshifteh Farahani and Maria de Medeiros as Nasser’s neurotic wife. Schedule and ticket information.

El Gusto

The jovial energy of traditional Chaabi melodies, the beautiful scenery of Algiers, wonderful friendships and a serene nostalgia… Safinez Bousbia’s El Gusto is Algeria’s version of Buena Vista Social Club. Told through the story of a group of Muslim and Jewish musicians who meet for an extraordinary reunion concert 50 years after being separated by the Algerian War, the film is a celebration of co-existence and dialogue, and the power of music to transcend boundaries. Schedule and ticket information.

I Wish (Kiseki)

Beloved storyteller Hirokazu Kore-Eda returns with I Wish, a wistful fable for the 21st century. Two brothers are separated after their parents take them to far-flung cities. When the boys hear a rumour that a miracle will occur when the new bullet trains running between their cities first pass, they hatch a plan to fix their family plight. Kore-Eda’s visually delightful film is a charming tribute to youthful spirit and optimism. Schedule and ticket information.

In My Mother's Arms (Fi Ahdan Ummi)

When he discovered the abysmal horrors in government-run orphanages in Baghdad, Husham established a makeshift foster home to give young victims of violence a new lease on life. Bound by shared sorrows, the orphaned boys are a microcosm of Iraq’s ethnic, cultural, religious and class mosaic. But when Husham and his troupe face eviction, they find distraction by staging a musical performance, giving voice to the children’s longing for a mother’s unconditional love. Schedule and ticket information.


You might not expect “Wim Wenders” and “3-D” to appear in the same sentence, but the revered German director uses the multidimensional format to pay stunning tribute to the late Pina Bausch, the most innovative choreographer in modern dance. Letting Bausch’s talents take center stage in visceral, imaginatively filmed performances by the choreographer’s own ensemble, Wenders crafts both a eulogy to a formidable genius and a timeless tribute to the ecstatic power of dance.

Schedule and ticket information.

Project Nim

At the heart of Project Nim is the story of a chimpanzee who was part of a linguistics experiment in the 1970s. If taken into a family and raised as though he were a human child, could Nim develop language? Oscar® winning director James Marsh (Man on Wire) brings us an extraordinary biopic, from which we learn as much about the unpleasant side of human nature as we do the workings of another primate’s mind.

Schedule and ticket infrormation.

Reasons of the Heart (Las razones del corazón)

One of Mexico’s most famous directors – his The Beginning and the End also shows in the Festival this year – returns with an ensemble melodrama inspired by Madame Bovary. Emilia’s only respites from her failed marriage are brief love affairs, but when her lover leaves her she faces a drastic choice. Crisp black-and-white cinematography and film noir aesthetics complement actress Arcelia Ramírez’s wonderful embodiment of a suffering heroine who fears neither tragedy nor love. Schedule and ticket information.

Sea Shadow (Dhil al Bahr)

Set in a small seaside town in Ras Al Khaimah, Sea Shadow follows Emirati teenagers Mansour and Kaltham as they struggle with traditions and conventions on their journey toward adulthood. Bound by family and deeply rooted values, the pair must find the courage to forge their own paths. In this charmingly low-key follow-up to his debut feature The Circle, director Nawaf Al-Janahi combines a nostalgic feel for a simpler time with genuine cultural insight.

Schedule and ticket information.

She Monkeys (Apflickorna)

Distinctively wrought with graceful visuals, haunting rural settings, muted suspense and potent performances, Lisa Aschan’s debut is at once a coming-of-age psychodrama and modern gothic Western. As two 15-year-old girls compete for a spot on the local equestrian acrobatics troupe, their friendship twists into a rivalry that reveals dark dimensions in their nascent personalities. A winner at Berlin and Tribeca, She Monkeys is a quiet film that loudly proclaims the arrival of a bold new filmmaker.

Schedule and ticket information.

Stories Only Exist When Remembered (Histórias que só existem quando lembradas)

Like a piece of seamless haute couture, Julia Murat’s elegant first feature is a carefully cut and lovingly assembled film that intertwines Brazilian landscapes with superb production design for a deeply moving story. In a remote valley in the northeastern state of Paraíba, life moves along slowly and unchanging for a community of aging citizens. Then a young woman, a photographer, arrives seeking lodging, opening a new set of eyes on the village. Schedule and ticket information.

The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

From 1967 to 1975, a group of Swedish journalists traveled to the United States to report on the burgeoning Black Power movement, but the footage they captured remained locked away for 30 years. Now this rich collection of 16mm film has been unearthed and assembled with present-day interviews featuring artists and activists like Harry Belafonte to remind us that the issues fought over in the turbulent 1960s and 1970s are still alive and enduring worldwide today.

Schedule and ticket information.

The City Dark

Director Ian Cheney spent his childhood in the rural United States surrounded by a brilliant night sky. Now he lives in New York City, where the night is mostly devoid of stars. Talking with astronomers, cancer researchers, ecologists and philosophers, Cheney ponders what humans really lose to light pollution. This beautifully composed ode to the disappearance of darkness features stunning astrophotography, dazzling animation and a haunting score.

Schedule and ticket information.

The Source

For the women of a remote village in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, fetching water means a dangerous daily trek high into the hills and back. That is until Leila (Leila Bekhti) an educated young wife, organizes a drastic “love strike” – no affection toward the men until they build a pipeline to channel water down the mountain. This charming fable of female empowerment is a song-filled crowd pleaser that fearlessly takes on many issues in the Arab world. With Hiam Abbass, Hafsia Herzi and Saleh Bakri. Schedule and ticket information.

The Tiniest Place (El lugar más pequeño)

The tiny town of Cinquera was nearly wiped off the map during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war. But in a moving example of their love of life, at the end of the conflict the survivors returned to their town and resurrected their lives. Beginning in 1979, before the war, The Tiniest Place follows the remarkable story of Cinquera through both the terrible tales of its survivors and the quiet lives they live today.

Schedule and ticket information

Troll Hunter (Trolljegeren)

In the wintry Norwegian countryside, there lives an endangered species unlike any you’ve ever seen. When three gutsy film students tag along with a hard-bitten hunter named Hans in the hopes of making an investigative documentary on bear poaching, they soon find out that Hans is the predator of a different prey. Loaded with sensational special effects, Troll Hunter brims with all the edge-of-your-seat energy of seminal suspense films like Jaws and The Blair Witch Project.

Schedule and ticket information.

We Need to Talk About Kevin

Eva (Tilda Swinton) never really wanted to be a mother – and certainly not the mother of an unlovable, manipulative boy who ever more cruelly taunts her inability to impose her authority over him as he grows up. But is it Eva’s own lack of motherly affection that has made her son a sociopath? Beautifully adapted by director Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher) from Lionel Shriver’s international bestseller, this searingly honest film holds up a mirror to an entire culture.  Schedule and ticket information.

(Film synopsis from the Abu Dhabi Film Festival website.)