Industry plan seeks to lure more production

Dubai is ramping up its industry initiatives in an attempt to become the main production hub in the Middle East despite increasing competition from fellow emirate Abu Dhabi as well as other Arab countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Qatar.

The Dubai Film Festival is launching the first Arab film market to coincide with this year’s fifth edition, which unspools Dec. 11-18, as well as increasing the coin offered by its co-production forum, the Dubai Film Connection.

And Dubai Studio City, the planned one-stop shop for film production that’s been plagued by delays and design problems since it was first announced in February 2005, finally looks set to open its much-vaunted soundstages by the second half of 2009.

“The film industry has several pillars, and the film festival is only one of them,” says fest chairman Abdulhamid Juma. “The other pillars include the proper infrastructure, both indoor and outdoor, for film production; the availability of talent; government support; film funds; and distribution channels. Some of these pillars already exist here in Dubai, some are under construction, and others are in the planning stages.”

The Dubai Film Market will focus predominantly on Arab, Asian and African films and will give buyers from across the world the opportunity to acquire content through Cinetech, an innovative digital partnership with Hewlett-Packard.

Cinetech, essentially a digitized film library, will feature an initial catalog of 210 features, shorts and docs that are available for acquisition. Users will be able to browse through the library electronically and interact directly with the rights holders.

All the films at this year’s Dubai fest with available film and TV rights will be uploaded onto the Cinetech site; the goal is to rapidly expand the library in the years to come.

“Buyers from the U.S. and Europe will be able to come to Dubai and explore Arab, Asian and world cinema in general,” says Dubai Film Market director Ziad Yaghi. “Ultimately, the market will take the direction that the industry wants to go. We want to open all the doors and provide all the opportunities to do business.”

Buzz titles available for acquisition at this year’s mart include Uberto Pasolini’s “Machan” and Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah.”

The Dubai Film Market is just the latest initiative from the Dubai fest. Another is co-production forum the Dubai Film Connection was launched last year as a way to bring up-and-coming filmmakers together with agents and producers. The event is already proving a success, with five entries from last year’s edition — Simon El Habre’s “One Man Village,” Cherien Dabis’ “Amreeka,” Dima El-Horr’s “Every Day Is a Holiday,” Raed Andoni’s “Fix Me” and Kamal Al-Jafari’s “Port of Memory” — all completed or in production.

The number of projects accepted this year has increased from 15 to 18, while the coin for the three winning projects has been upped from $15,000 to $25,000 each.

“At first we were concerned about the number of entries we would receive, because when we launched last year, we essentially had two to three years’ worth of projects to choose from, but we’re very pleased with the quality and quantity of submissions that have come through,” says Film Connection topper Jane Williams. “We want to support talent that already exists in the region. It’s really important because there’s a huge amount of talent that is already here.”

Among the projects selected for this year’s event are Lebanese helmer Chadi Zeneddine’s Jordan-set laffer “Barbershop Trinity,” Moroccan helmer Faouzi Bensaidi’s “Death for Sale” and Iraqi helmer Oday Rasheed’s “Hejaz Kar.”

How big the Dubai Film Connection can become, however, is uncertain. Abu Dhabi’s film financing and training summit the Circle, which took place in October, is able to offer huge financial incentives, including $100,000 for the winner of its Shasha screenwriting grant.

While Dubai can’t compete with those numbers, there has long been talk of Dubai launching its own film fund to help filmmakers in the region. The Dubai Film Connection would appear to be the perfect platform for such a funding mechanism.

“I can’t say we have discussed the creation of a fund as a long-term goal, but I do think it’s a very good idea,” Williams says.

Tip Sheet

What: Dubai Intl. Film Festival

When: Dec. 11-18

Where: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Related events: Dubai Film Market, Dec. 11-18; Dubai Film Connection, Dec. 11-17

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