Director set for next year's screenwriting lab

Paul Haggis, in Abu Dhabi to deliver a masterclass to 50 aspiring local filmmakers, has agreed to take on the role of creative mentor on the fest’s screenwriting lab, set to launch next year, organizers said.

The initiative will see up to a dozen budding screenwriters selected for a one-week workshop in Abu Dhabi to hone their projects. Although there will be an emphasis on Emirati filmmakers, the lab will be open to submissions from intl. filmmakers as well.

The Abu Dhabi Film Fund will have a first-look deal on further development and production on any of the projects which emerge out of the lab. Middle East Intl. Film Festival director Jon Fitzgerald will be one of the lab organizers.

Meanwhile on Wednesday winners of the fest’s Film Finance Circle’s Pearl Pitch Finalists were unveiled. Soman Chainani’s “Love Marriage,” a romantic comedy about two dueling weddings that threaten to tear an Indian family apart in London, and Sofie Damian’s “Keep Smiling,” a tragicomedy about seven Georgian women who fight it out for first prize in a “Mother’s Only” beauty contest, tied for the top prize. Each project will receive $50,000 in development coin from the fest.

A further prize of $25,000 was donated by Relativity Media CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, in town as one of the Film Finance Circle panelists, to Kayvan Mashayekh’s “Batting for Palestine,” a dramedy about a Palestinian youth who gets recruited by a struggling Jewish minor league baseball manager in Texas after the latter sees the young boy’s prowess at throwing rocks.

Fest received more than a hundred submissions from filmmakers in 27 countries prior to the final shortlist of six projects. The six helmers then had to conduct public pitches of their projects to the InCircle jury, which included former BBC Films topper David Thompson and Hyde Park Entertainment chairman and CEO Ashok Amritraj.

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