Alessandra Priente, at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival 2014. Photo Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Italian lecturer and film connoisseur Alessandra Priante is one of five jurors of the Child Protection Award at this year’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival, created in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Interior.

This year, she will help select two out of 14 films in the category, with Best Script receiving $30,000 (Dh110,189) and Best Film receiving $70,000 (Dh257,108). She joins Egyptian director Marwan Hamed (president juror), director of the UAE Ministry of the Interior Child Protection Centre, Faisal Al Shamari, UAE media expert Heyam Al Juma and Egyptian actress Nelly Kareem.

“We do very beautiful discussions after the films. That is very enriching, because I think we’re all taking very seriously the mandate of the jury,” Priante told tabloid!.

“It’s really about highlighting how much cinema can have an impact on society, and can have a role in actually delivering an important message, highlighting a situation which, most of the time, we think doesn’t happen close to us, or doesn’t happen at all. In reality, it does.”

The films in this year’s category are Difret, In Her Place, No One’s Child, Sivas, Cain’s Children, Pirates of Sale, I Exist, The Baby, Behaviour, Imperial Dreams, Macondo, Refugiado, Sold and Young Tiger. The topics covered between them range from kidnapping and abandonment to murder, sexual trafficking and overcoming adversity.

“Most of these films paint us a picture, whether it’s about the consequences of war... or whether it highlights an incredible situation that happens in the poorer countries of the world, it’s really about giving us a picture of how dramatic our world can be when you destroy the possibility of growth, and sometimes, of living, in children.”

Priante is based in Rome, Italy, but calls UAE her second base with husband Paul Baboudjian, one of the producers behind opening night Emirati film, From A to B. She recently completed her four-year role as the Italian government’s Italian Cultural Expert, promoting culture and education in the Gulf.

In September, she created the European Film Screenings in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as supported by ADFF and Dubai International Film Festival. A total of 13 European films were screened, with each film preceded by an Emirati short.

“You’d see the people lining up, and coming two hours in advance, and it was just overwhelming — it was just a lot. And for that to happen just one month before [ADFF] tells you how much hunger there is for cinema,” she said.

As for whether or not she has a message for people to come see the films under the Child Protection category, Priante said she would “encourage people to go see films, full stop.”

“I’m not a huge fan of labelling, and I think what I really appreciate in this award that we’re giving, is that the category is not there in the beginning,” she added. The films are already selected to be in the festival programme, and are then assigned to the jury due to their relevancy to the category.

“I would encourage people to go and see cinema, to be exposed to the biggest diversity possible, because what you get out of those 90 minutes will stay with you forever,” Priante said.