Confab looks to establish Abu Dhabi as industry hub

Fest sets changes | Nurturing talent at the ADFF | Q&A: Mohamed Al Daradji | Circle Conference looks to future

Ask anyone at the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, and they’ll tell you its most important goal is to make Abu Dhabi a serious filmmaking hub not only in the Middle East but also the world.

Key to achieving that goal is the Circle Conference, the three-day event — this year on Oct. 13-15 — when hundreds of filmmakers, financiers, producers and executives from across the globe will descend on Abu Dhabi to discuss future development, global investment models and award funds to deserving scripts in the Shasha Grant pitch competition.

For David Shepheard, director of the ADFC, this year’s confab looks set to exceed expectations.

“We already have more delegates registered than last year when 350 industry professionals from 35 countries attended, which is a great achievement for us,” he says. “It’s also an indicator that more people consider the Circle and Abu Dhabi a place where they have to be to do business.”

Indeed, some names slated for the Circle include Quinta Communications founder Tarak Ben Ammar, Endemol chief commercial officer Tom Toumazis and Kuwaiti producer and financier Sheikha Al-Zain Al-Sabah.

“We invite high-level international executives and filmmakers from the Arab region to meet, network and share knowledge at Circle, and the reason they are coming is because they are interested in the advances that we are making here in Abu Dhabi, in establishing the emirate as a serious filmmaking hub for the region and globally,” says Shepheard.

One of the highlights of the ADFC’s work on the latter comes to its fruition on the third day of Circle. The Shasha Grant Pitch Competition will see a total of 20 scripts (selected from 76 that were submitted, 33 in Arabic and 43 in English, with 17 from UAE-based writers) vie for a development grant of $100,000 to be awarded from an international panel of script readers and developers and a first-look deal with Imagenation, the Abu Dhabi Media Co.’s production arm.

Shepheard believes that Circle will open more doors and provide increased opportunities for different financing and distribution models. In 2009, producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald agreed to provide a $10 million revolving financing fund for development with Imagenation. Imagenation already has partnerships with Participant Media, National Geographic and Hyde Park Entertainment, and more are expected this year.

Peter Scarlet, executive director of the ADFF, believes the two entities go hand-in-hand, and it’s crucial for all industry professionals interested in the region to attend.

“We are bringing sales agents to Abu Dhabi as well as filmmakers and producers,” Scarlet says. “There will be a lot of cross-pollination.”

The fest’s Sanad FilmLab also lends support to regional filmmakers through workshops, pitch sessions and the Sanad fund.

Aside from panels on business and financing, the Circle will discuss “Women in Film,” highlighting the challenges and opportunities for Arabic women in the film industry. The panel will include last year’s Shasha Grant winner Haifaa Al Mansour; Hala Sarhan, president of Rotana Studios; director/producer and head for the Vicky Jewson Film Foundation Vicky Jewson; cultural diplomat and film producer Cynthia Schneider and Palestinian filmmaker Mai Masri.

“It is exciting to be in a place like Abu Dhabi where people are investing in building up the industry, and focusing on nurturing up-and-coming talent,” Al Mansour says. “With these kind of resources, and if women seek out experienced and innovative partners, there is no reason they can’t be making quality films that compete at the international level. The world is there to listen; we just have to be smart and creative about what we are saying.”

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