My Top 25 Picks for Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2014

The eighth edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival will take place this month, from 23rd October - 1st November 2014. I missed the festival last year, but hoping to watch as many films as I can this year. 

This year's edition includes 197 films from 61 countries which will be screened in Emirates Palace and Vox Cinemas in Marina Mall.

A selection of restored classics like Rebel Without A Cause, Fistful of Dollars and Mary Poppins is also part of  the line up, plus a special screening of restored films by François Truffaut (screening in this part of the world for the first time).

I had a look at the programme and here are my top 25 picks (full features and documentaries) and why: 

20,000 Days on Earth 

This is in my list of favourite music related documentaries after I watched it at the Berlinale in February earlier this year.  It's funny, personal and touching.

"20,000 Days On Earth takes us deep into the heart of how myth, memory, love and loss, shape our lives, every single day." (via

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

An Iranian vampire western set in a ghost town of "Bad City". That's why. 

A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence 

The title. It also won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival last month

The Color of Pomegranates

Jean-Luc Godard said this about it in the 1970s, "I think you have to live at least 15 miles away and feel the need to walk there on foot to see [The Colour of Pomegranates]. If you feel that need and give it that faith, the film can give you everything you could wish." (via

El Ott 

Its director, Ibrahim El Batout is one of my favourite filmmakers from Egypt. Always moved by his depiction of malaise in Egyptian society. This one is about selling organs of kidnapped street children. 

From A to B

A road movie from Abu Dhabi to Beirut by Ali F Mostafa (his last feature film City of Life was set in Dubai). 

In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten)

A Norwegian black comedy crime thriller.

La Sapienza 

An architect looking for spiritual and artistic renewal by travelling to study the work of 17th century architect Francesco Borromini. (I know the feeling.) 


The Return by Andrey Zvyagintsev is currently in my list of top 10 favourite films. So I don't need much convincing to watch his latest film. Plus, I've been reading very positive reviews since its premiere in Cannes last May. 

Magical Girl

According to, "Fun and disturbing, strange and yet somehow entirely plausible, the film tells the story of three different groups of people and their random connections, and how those connections lead to disaster." 

Manila in the Claws of the Night

One of the restored classics screening at this festival. Plus, "When it first screened at Cannes in 1978, the word around the festival had it that Manila was a "dirty" movie, perhaps because it's characters were criminals, homosexuals, and the homeless, but also, perhaps, because it had the gall to treat poverty as an ignoble tragedy for which violence is a rational response." (via

Memories on Stone

"After the fall of Saddam, childhood friends Hussein and Alan decide to make a film about the genocide of Iraqi Kurds in 1988. To tell the truth and to come to terms with their own identity, it`s worth putting everything on the line, even their lives." (via

National Diploma

A documentary about a group of Congolese high school students fighting a corrupt education system. 

No One's Child

Based on a true story set in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1980s about a feral boy who was found living among wolves in a forest in the mountains. 

Point and Shoot

Winner of Best Documentary at Tribeca Film Festival this year, about the American citizen Matt Dykes who was imprisoned in Libya as a member of a revolutionary group in 2011.

Return to Homs

"Filmed over three years in Homs, Syria, the film accompanies two outstanding young men from the time they are dreaming of freedom and defending pacifism, to the time when choices are forced to be different.

Basset, the 19 years old national football team goalkeeper, turning into an iconic demonstration leader and singer, then, becoming a fighter and Ossama, a 24 years old renowned citizen-cameraman who is critical, pacifist, and ironic, as his views change till he is detained by the regime's security forces.

It is the story of a city, which the world heard of a lot, but never really got close to. Return to Homs is a modern times epic of youth in war, and of forced choices." (via

Sounds of the Sea

Nujoom Al Ghanem is a poet and a leading film maker from the UAE who has been making films since the 1990s. Her films are usually sensitive portrayals of individuals in this country and I am certain we can expect the same in her latest film, about a famous old sea singer who "wishes to cross Umm Al Quwain Creek on a fishing boat for the last time and sing one of his folklore songs to the fishermen". 


"Award-winning Iranian filmmaker Rakshan Banietemad ends her eight-year hiatus from feature filmmaking to make pointed remarks about the necessity of socially engaged cinema with this ingenious, mosaic-like narrative, which knits together the stories of seven characters to create a microcosm of Iranian working-class society." (via

The Look of Silence

The sequel to Joshua Oppenheimer's extremely chilling The Act of Killing. This one tells the story from the victims' point of view. 

Salt of the Earth

A film by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, and an ode to renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado.


This film has been getting rave reviews ever since it premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Set in Wadi Rum in 1916, it's a "bedouin story of brotherhood and betrayal". 

"Theeb [Wolf] lives with his Bedouin tribe in a forgotten corner of the Ottoman Empire. Having recently lost his father, it falls to Theeb's brother, Hussein, to raise him. Hussein tries to teach Theeb the Bedouin way of life, but the young boy is more interested in mischief than mentorship. Their lives are interrupted with the arrival of a British Army Officer and his Guide on a mysterious mission.

Unable to refuse help to his guests for fear of dishonouring his late father’s reputation, Hussein agrees to escort the pair to their destination, a water-well on the old pilgrimage route to Mecca. Fearful of losing his brother, Theeb chases after Hussein and embarks on a treacherous journey across the Arabian Desert. Since the outbreak of the First World War, this harsh terrain has become the hunting ground of Ottoman mercenaries, Arab revolutionaries and outcast Bedouin raiders. If Theeb is to survive he must quickly learn about adulthood, trust and betrayal. He must live up to the name his Father gave him." (via


The film received a 10 minute standing ovation in Cannes earlier this year where it premiered. Its director, Abderrahmane Sissako broke down in tears during the press conference, discussing the film's depiction of militant jihadists takeover in Northern Mali and its impact on the people living there. 

"It's difficult...We become more and more indifferent to the horrors if we're not careful" Abderrahmane Sissako (via


Won Best Film at Sundance in January this year, and another one with rave reviews. The film looks at ambition and what it takes to seek and achieve greatness and perfection. 

Winter Sleep

A film by Nuri Bilge Ceylan and a winner of thePalme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Nuri Bilge Ceylan's films are subtle and slow (this one is 196 minutes long), so you will need to surrender yourself to see where he will take you mentally and emotionally. 

Special screenings of François Truffaut's films

Because it's François Truffaut. List of films include The 400 Blows, Day for Night, Jules and Jim, The Last Metro, The Man Who Loved Women, Small Change, The Wild Child

Event details

Dates:  23rd October - 1st November 2014

Venue: Emirates Palace Hotel and Marina Mall, Abu Dhabi

Film schedule:


on 2014-10-17 11:20 by The Culturist

I have one more film to add to the list. Embarrasingly, I missed it when I went through the list of films to make this list. Here's recommended film number 26: Two Days, One Night

Read more here.