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Awards kickstart international careers

Money's good, but connections are priceless

For a competition that is only just approaching its third year, the Dubai fest’s Muhr Awards are already gaining a reputation as one of the most valuable prizes on the Arab film fest calendar, not only cashwise but also in giving its winners a big boost on the international cinema scene.

Lebanese helmer Philippe Aractingi, whose powerful war drama “Under the Bombs” won the film and actress prizes at last year’s fest, has since seen his pic picked up for distribution in the U.S. by Film Movement and in the U.K. by Artificial Eye. A ringing endorsement by jury prexy Michael Cimino, whose statement that everyone in America should see Aractingi’s depiction of the 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon was eventually used on the pic’s poster, also firmly pushed the helmer into the spotlight.

He now has three projects in the pipeline. They include an

English-language comedy set up with the U.K. Film Council, Film 4 and Maya Hariri’s shingle Rahmsa, starring Omid Djalili and George Khabbaz; a French-Irish-Lebanese co-production centered around the theme of forgiveness; and a third, personal project that the helmer claims to be very intimate.

As for “Under the Bombs,” the pic is now Lebanon’s official entry in the foreign-language category for the Academy Awards.

“It’s been very helpful in terms of meeting people and expanding my professional horizons,” Aractingi says. “The financial help that the prize gave me was very useful just to survive, especially when you’re touring around the world with a film. The award at Dubai was written about around the world, including Le Film Francais. Even in the U.S. they heard about it.”

Jordanian helmer Amin Matalqa used the momentum he got after his debut feature, “Captain Abu Raed,” won the actor prize at last year’s fest when he took his pic to Sundance earlier this year. The film went on to win Sundance’s

World Cinema Audience Award, a first for an Arab pic. Matalqa spent the rest of the year traveling fests around the world until he was finally able to ink a distribution deal in October with NeoClassics for the U.S., U.K., Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

“Captain Abu Raed” has also become Jordan’s official entry in the foreign-language Oscar race.

Matalqa is working on two

English-language pics. Producer Laith Majali is also prepping Lebanese helmer Chadi Zeneddine’s Jordan-set laffer “Barbershop Trinity,” one of the 18 projects selected at this year’s liDubai Film Connection.

Algerian helmer Djamila Sahraoui, who won the inaugural film prize at the 2006 fest for her road movie “Barakat!,” also is receiving some much-needed support from Dubai: Her follow-up project, “Ouardia Once Had Sons,” was selected for co-production mart the Dubai Film Connection.

While the Muhr Awards have helped all these filmmakers gain some international recognition, they have been ironically less successful in raising the winning pics’ profiles in the Arab world. “Under the Bombs,” for example, is yet to be released theatrically in Dubai, while “Captain Abu Raed” had a muted release across the U.A.E.

“People in the Middle East know who I am because of ‘Under the Bombs,’ and that’s cool, but that hasn’t got the film released here,” Aractingi says. “The award didn’t help us in terms of distribution in the Middle East. You have distributors here who say that no one wants to see Arab films.”

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