Studio sets focus on Arab independents

Taking Tarak Ben Ammar’s support for Arab cinema to the next level, Quinta is launching a pic production operation, dubbed the Independent Film Division.

Based in London, and headed by exec director Ali Jaafar, former Variety international editor, IFD’s main focus will be the production, financing and distribution of film by established and up-and-coming talent from the Arab world and Middle East.

Average budgets will be €1.5 million-€2.5 million ($2 million-$3.4 million), tight enough to not dissuade international distributors.

IFD will make one to three films a year, says Jaafar, adding that the production outfit is in talks with “international name Arab filmmakers, first-time filmmakers or filmmakers looking to break out.”

Shingle aims to announce its first project in Cannes or by early summer — a swift pace considering the unit launched in March.

Capitalized, connected and operating out in the heart of Europe, IFD reps a powerful new kid on the Arab/Middle East block.

One of its strengths is that it can cut through the financing-patchwork hell of low-budget, co-productions.

“Successful Arab-Middle East films have certainly been made last decade,” Jaafar says, citing “Paradise Now” and Nadine Labaki’s “Caramel.”

“But projects sometimes have 15 or 20 finance sources. It makes a huge difference when you can say: ‘We can develop this for you inhouse, we can part-finance it upfront. We have distribution in two territories, plus sales relationships with distributors in Europe, particularly.'”

IFD will co-produce or co-finance movies with at least one partner, “though there will be some projects we’ll develop entirely inhouse,” Jaafar says.

Development, or the lack thereof, is one challenge IFD can address.

Another is distribution. The Arab/Middle East markets have 300 million inhabitants, two-thirds under the age of 30.

“Our biggest problem is Arabs won’t go and see Arab films,” Jaafar says.

Rachid Bouchareb’s “Days of Glory” grossed $21 million in France. It didn’t even get a theatrical release across the Gulf and UAE.

“Part of the problem is how these films are marketed,” Jaafar says. “We have to actually respect the product, make sure we do sizeable releases, make sure people know what the release dates are, use a coordinated market strategy.”

Also, Arab films need a star system.

“Where are the Javier Bardems, the Zhang Ziyis, Gael Garcia Bernals, Penelope Cruzes, Marion Cotillards? We haven’t had one single Arab star since Omar Sharif. That has to change,” Jaafar says.

The biggest market for IFD films looks to be France. “We can target 7 million people, and the French, being culturally sophisticated, have an appetite for foreign-language films.”

Ben Ammar also has good relations with European TV groups from TF1 to Canal Plus and Mediaset.

That said, “We’re not the cavalry,” Jaafar maintains.

“People in the past have come in and said, ‘We have the answers, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that.’ What I’d like us to say is ‘This is what we’re going to do, whoever wants to join us is welcome. Let’s make the best possible films we can.’ “

And, Jaafar adds, “Let’s get them seen.”

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