10/21/2013 09:44 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

The 7th Abu Dhabi Film Festival: Life's Better at the Movies

2013-10-21-FreakedFrankWS_R_CROP_1.jpg Give me a film to learn my history, politics and geography any day, over news bulletins, newspapers and professors.

I'll admit with pride that I've learned about everything worth knowing from filmmakers, not the media. I got the true insight on the Palestinian Nakba thanks to Elia Suleiman's masterpiece The Time That Remains, grasped the human toll of the Egyptian revolution, the political in Jehane Noujaim's The Square and the emotional in both Ahmad Abdallah's Rags & Tatters and Yousry Nasrallah's After the Battle, I learned of our role and mistakes in and after Iraq from Beth Murphy's The List, the powers at play that helped to end South Africa's apartheid rule in Plot for Peace and even the most dangerous aspect of child labor in the exploding economy of India from Richie Mehta's Siddharth.

Perhaps deep inside I know that in order to truly understand something we must first experience it wholeheartedly, and a good film can magically take the viewer to the frontlines of war, suffering, love, joy, and eventually even the solution.

It is with this spirit that I eagerly prepare to attend the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, the yearly event held inside the majestic Emirates Palace overlooking the Arabian Gulf, with most screenings taking place at Marina Mall, just opposite the luxury hotel. Powered by Abu Dhabi's media hub twofour54, this year's ADFF, as it is called lovingly by insiders, promises a line-up that will at once entertain, instruct and enlighten. My kind of festival.

Wayne Borg, president international and chief commercial officer of twofour54 said in a recent interview that they are striving to make ADFF "the emotional home of Arab cinema" and I have to say that a hopeless romantic like me has never felt out of place or talked down to here. Arab cinema already presents a really intimate look at a part of the world that allows their humanity to shine through their stories, but in Abu Dhabi, that intimacy and interaction become commonplace, so much so that after past editions of the festival, I needed a few days to float back down to where I could accept once again the reality of the "thin red line," those fault lines that are placed by the media and our politicians between Western and Arab culture, to separate us.

During this year's edition, I look forward to second viewings of personal favorites like Rags & Tatters, catching actors who always amaze me like Saleh Bakri -- he stars in both Giraffada and the Italian mafia-with-a-heart hit Salvo -- Kais Nashif in the short Though I Know the River is Dry, Irrfan Khan in Qissa, Naseeruddin Shah in the Pakistani entry to the Foreign Language Oscar race Zinda Bhaag, Dame Judi Dench in Philomena, Hiam Abbass in Peace After Marriage -- the wondrous Abbass will also receive the Black Pearl Career Achievement Award during ADFF -- and the late, beloved James Gandolfini in Enough Said.

And films such as the Emirati short Safi, which needs no more than a couple of minutes to convey an entire story of culture and yearning for times gone by, the Gael Garcia Bernal narrated and co-produced documentary Who Is Dayani Cristal?, Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal and directed by Oscar-nominated Incendies wonder Denis Villenueve and Djinn, a supernatural horror thriller which appears groundbreaking at sight, because of its Image Nation production involvement and the ties it attempts to create across oceans and cultures.

Opening night kicks off with the Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins starrer Life of Crime and the Emirates Film Competition section is absolutely chock full of beautiful stories helping singularly and collectively to create a cinema culture in this part of the world. With industry panels and masterclasses, such as the one I'm personally moderating on the Aflamnah crowdfunding platform providing tailor made funding to artistic projects throughout the Arab world, the festival rounds out to absolutely perfection.

Festival director Ali Al Jabri, who opened up earlier last month through a wonderful "Portrait Chinois" posted here, said about this edition of ADFF:

I hope Abu Dhabi is as excited by this year's Festival line-up as I am. We have secured films that are delighting audiences and making waves around the world. It is a heady and stimulating mix of the best of international and Arab cinema, with something for young and old.

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival runs from October 24th to November 2nd. For all info check out the ADFF website and for a few personal picks, check out the slideshow below.

Best of ADFF 2013

All images and synopsis courtesy of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, used with permission