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The big screens

“The night begins when Hilary gets here, and Hilary gets here when she wants,” one of MEIFF’s many red carpet wranglers told me sternly.

I was on the other side of the velvet rope and had asked her whether the evening was going to schedule, as several hundred invited guests from the across the film world filed into the auditorium at Emirates Palace and began taking their seats. Thursday night’s gala screening was of the controversial Egyptian film The Traveller by the first-time feature director Ahmed Maher.

After the black-clad Demi Moore made her way down the red carpet, many of the photographers and journalists on my side of the rope were ready to pack up and leave. Only a select few had heard that Hilary Swank was in town. To prevent the Oscar winner from having to walk a desolate red carpet, a MEIFF organiser let slip to photographers that “Hilary Swank will be here in one minute”.

By the time she arrived – almost half an hour later – there were enough members of the media grappling for photos and quotes for the event to justifiably be called a scrum.

While a fuss was being made about the Million Dollar Baby star outside, the many hundreds of invitees, including the Slumdog Millionaire actress Freida Pinto and the designer of the moment Jason Wu, were getting a little restless in the auditorium.

Once proceedings began, the film festival’s director, Peter Scarlet, did his best to amuse the highly talented mass, and did a splendid job of it. A huge improvement on last year’s event, the speeches were kept short and to the point and did not eat into the screening or, most importantly for some, the late-night partying.

And when the impossibly elegant Swank strode across the stage, revealed by Scarlet as the person chosen to present Vanessa Redgrave’s lifetime achievement award, the audience clearly felt the wait had been worth it.

After a few moments in the limelight, Swank trotted off the stage, (she had an early flight back to the US on Friday) and the night’s film screening drew closer.

Not for me, though. I was fortunate enough to interview Swank and had to miss the film. What I did witness, however, was the audience’s reaction at the post-screening party in the grounds of Emirates Palace.

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