Abu Dhabi seemed like a city of palm trees, construction, and concrete. A friend and I wandered around after checking into our hotel, but mostly found highway. The road seemed like a symbol of how people keep coming here; less than a quarter of the population is native, and the rest have arrived from nearly 140 countries. After seeing a food court full of South and East Asian, African, and European complexions the next day, we agreed that New York looked homogenous.
We came for the fourth annual Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF), with over 170 films. Like the city, the lineup extends multiculturally: Only three of the 15 films in the Narrative Competition come from Middle Eastern countries (none from the United Arab Emirates), and several others are high-profile Western choices like Miral and Never Let Me Go. Throughout the other categories, too, the area’s work keeps slipping in between films from the Americas, Europe, and India (here, Bollywood yields big box office), several of which do feature characters of Arab descent. Yet the only fully Arab festival categories this year are a series of shorts programs and a brief retrospective sidebar—and the sidebar films have been programmed by MoMA.