Lights, flashbulbs, and sequins galore. It was all there at Abu Dhabi's 7th Film Festival held at the Emirates Palace Hotel. In splendidly majestic surroundings saturated with Arabian perfumes, the creme de la creme of the local and international cinema industry descended on the festival's red carpet to be greeted by fans and a heavy media presence before heading to the hotel's Auditorium where the opening ceremony was held.
With 'bling' overshadowing the glare of the massive crystal chandeliers, it was a sight to behold on the red carpet. Not only were the celebrities dressed to impress but the invited guests matched their idols suit for suit, dress for dress, and botox for botox. There wasn't a wrinkle in the house, and one sensed that out beyond the Palace walls were plastic surgeons, beauticians, make-up artists, hairdressers, and dress-makers falling exhaustedly into their beds knowing their job, at least for this night, was done.
And yet, in spite of all the glitz and the glamour, the ceremony was not flawless. The presenters of the show shouted into the microphone, stammered through the few lines of their presentations and struggled profoundly to pronounce foreign names of international directors, producers and judges called onto the stage for an impromptu photo shoot. Everyone else shifted impatiently in their seats waiting for the opening night's film to start.
But the people who most let down the festival were some of the invited guests. Dressed to the nines and singing the praises of the festival to the camera, they were the first to leave the auditorium as soon as the lights were switched off announcing the commencement of the film. Was it the film's content that they objected to with its sexual scenes and innuendos? Was it that some collective unforeseen emergency had arisen? or was it simply that away from the limelight, they simply did not care? Now, this writer is not naive and perfectly well understands that tickets to these events are handed to corporations that distribute them amongst their staff. So, I do understand that this means that not everyone is there to support the film industry per se, but one would expect that if one has taken the trouble to attend a film festival then one would at least stay to watch the film? My suggestion would be that perhaps festival organisers should probably work on compiling a more industry-worthy invitee list for next year.
However, in all fairness, flawed as the ceremony was, it wasn't a complete wash-out either. It was a beautiful night with a very worthy film screening of 'Life of Crime' by director Schechter and producer Ashok Amritraj. Mark Boone Junior, who plays sinister character Richard, also attended the night's screening. His performance was blood curdling and was deserving of every bit of the applause resonating around the majestic Auditorium at the end of the movie.
It was to deafening applause that super actor Forest Whitaker took to the stage to be awarded the Black Pearl Lifetime Achievement award. With his usual grace and charisma, he gave a beautiful speech thanking the festival organisers for the award and re-iterating how much it meant for him. He ended his speech with a few verses he'd learned from the Quran to the delight of the audience. The cheering and clapping took quite a while to abate.
The ceremony's after-party was a lavish affair and seemed to come straight out of a scene of 'The Great Gatsby' with live jazz music blaring away before switching to house music. Everyone seemed to be in high spirits. However, by then it was midnight and my feet had had enough signalling it was time for me to go. Off I slipped away from the palace, with both slippers still on, to a land beyond the magical Palace walls, to a sweet little place that I've recently started to call 'home'.