Aleksei Fedorchenko’s beguiling second feature “Silent Souls” from Russia won the Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s Golden Pearl award for best narrative film and a monetary prize of $100,000, concluding the 10-day activities of an edition marred by a so-so film selection and plenty of organizational missteps.
A hypnotic reverie on life, death and fading cultures, “Souls” follows two middle-aged men, a factory worker from the Meryan tribe and his boss Miron who embark on a trip to cremate the latter’s wife. A major hit at this year’s Venice Film Festival winning Best Cinematography, Fedorchenko’s film divided Arab critics and audience members alike.
“Shatti ya Dini” (Here Comes the Rain) by Lebanese director Bahij Hojeij won the Best Narrative Film from the Arab World and $100,000. Co-funded by the fest’s Sanad fund, the modest-scale domestic drama centers on a former political prisoner reunited with his family after 20 years in captivity.
"I dedicate my film to all those who are in love with freedom and peace in Lebanon," Hojeij said upon receiving the prize.
The newly announced Spider-Man, British actor Andrew Garfield, won the Best Actor award for his role as a conflicted young student attempting to decipher the mysteries of his strange existence in Mark Romanek’s British/American production, “Never Let Me Go.”
Belgian/Moroccan actress Lubna Azabal won the Best Actress award for her role as a Lebanese political activist whose life is shattered by the horrors of war in Canadian film “Incendies.”
Both acting awards came with a monetary bonus of $25,000.
The prize for Best Narrative Film by a New Director from the Arab World went to Lebanese comedy “Tayeb, Khalas, Yalla” (Ok, Enough, Goodbye) by Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia. A huge hit in Abu Dhabi, the film centers on a 32-year-old man who has to cope with his new life after his mother deserts him.
“This was a very, very small film. I guess it’s good that a small film could have big things happening for it,” director Garcia said.
First-time Egyptian filmmaker Fawzi Saleh went home with the Best Documentary by a New Director from the Arab World award for “Jeld Hayy” (Living Skin), an unflinching look at children working in the manufacture of natural leather.
Saleh dedicated his award “to my mother, my wife and my fellow Egyptians dreaming for a better tomorrow filled with justice and freedom.”
"Carlos," French director Olivier Assayas’ highly controversial bio-pic of Carlos the Jackal, received a special jury mention for "rendering the complex portrait of an era, a region and a controversial character." Screened in its short 2 ½ hour version (cut from 5 ½ hours), the Studio Canal production was met with considerable hostile reaction from Arab critics who questioned its historical accuracies.
The prize for Best Documentary by an Arab Director or Related to Arab Culture was given to two films: George Sluizer’s “Homeland” in which the Dutch filmmaker revisits two Palestinian families in the diaspora he has filmed in 1974, and Maher Abi Samra’s “We Were Communists” (Lebanon) about the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War.
The Best Documentary award was shared by Patricio Guzmán’s critically embraced “Nostalgia de la Luz” (Nostalgia for the Light) and Kim Longinotto’s British/Indian production, “Pink Saris.”
Two documentary films received a special mention from the jury: Vibeke Løkkeberg’s “Tears of Gaza” and Mohamed Soueid’s “Bahebbak Ya Wahsh!” (How Bitter My Sweet).
In the New Horizons/Afaq Jadida category for first feature works, Vahid Vakilifar’s “Gesher” from Iran earned the award for Best Narrative Film by a New Director.
Best Documentary by a New Director award was shared by Argentinean crowd-pleaser “El Ambulante,” by Eduardo de la Serna, Lucas Marcheggiano and Adriana Yurcovich, and Richard Press’ “Bill Cunningham New York” from the United States.
The audience award went to Andy De Emmony’s “West is West” (Britain).
Featured presenters the closing ceremony included Hollywood star Uma Thurman, Irish heartthrob Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Egyptian actress Basma.
US actress Uma Thurman congratulates Russian director Aleksei Fedorchenko. (Karim Sahib/AFP Photo)