This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
This year's Abu Dhabi Film Festival will be the first after a quiet revolution behind the scenes that has seen a management change, the arrival of a new director and a renewed emphasis on showcasing regional filmmakers.
Not only will the sixth edition mark the debut for freshly appointed festival director Ali Al Jabri, after veteran Peter Scarlet parted company with the event he had overseen since 2009, it also will be the first to be held under the management of Abu Dhabi media conglomerate twofour54.
Al Jabri is familiar with the surroundings of the festival, having worked at the event for five years, most recently as director of the Emirates Film competition.
The new director, appointed at the beginning of August 2012, sees no reason for concern about the timing of the changes at the festival.
"Many festivals in the world have things that change," says Al Jabri. "It doesn't mean the festival will be back to zero -- they continue going."
The focus of this year's event -- which has returned to the Emirates Palace on the Corniche after being based at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr in 2011 -- is to put Arabic cinema front and center.
Twofour54 CEO Wayne Borg says the long-term goal is to position the ADFF as the preeminent festival for the Arab filmmaking community. "We want to celebrate and champion some of the leaders," he adds, "and at the same time discover and celebrate emerging talent."
It won't be easy. The ADFF still has to work to raise its global profile thanks to direct competition from the Doha Film Festival and the Dubai International Film Festival, both more established events already on the map.
But Borg is pleased with the ADFF's progress. "When you look at the number of film submissions, we have had our highest ever," he says. "We have had an incredible response from the international community in terms of submissions for various competitions and parts of the program."
But they're hoping a bit of red-carpet buzz created by high-profile U.S. content programmed by the organizers and management can help change that.
Borg says the opening film, Nicholas Jarecki's Arbitrage, starring Richard Gere and Nate Parker, epitomizes everything the ADFF is about. "One of the aspects of Arbitrage that is so pleasing to us is that one of the executive producers is Mohammed Al Turki, who is from the region," says Borg. "That reinforces our goal to really celebrate and champion the Arab film community wherever it is in the world."
While that may be true, the 81-strong features and 84 shorts from 48 countries unspooling during the event boast a heavyweight U.S. presence. Among those with slots are Robert Zemeckis' Flight, starring Denzel Washington, and Robert Redford's The Company You Keep, starring Shia LaBeouf.