Fest Traveler: Abu Dhabi Film Festival
After four installments, Abu Dhabi has decided to nix its annual Circle Conference, a development initiative that was aimed at creating opportunities in the Middle East and unspooled days before the Abu Dhabi Film Festival in October.The confab, an event that operated under the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, will undoubtedly be a notable absence this year. In four years, the conference brought global industryites such as Spike Lee, McG, Tarak Ben Ammar, Antonio Banderas, Participant’s Jim Berk, WME Global’s Graham Taylor and producer Ed Pressman into the region to discuss opportunities in the Middle East. ADFC director David Shepheard says part of the reason for its demise is because the event became a victim of its own success. It also reflects a refocus of what is happening in Abu Dhabi. There’s no doubt there has been a slew of operational reviews in various companies in the region: In February, Ed Borgerding ankled as CEO of the Abu Dhabi Media Co. and the emirate’s $1 billion production arm Imagenation after three years. This followed the departure of Stefan Brunner from his post as chief operating officer of Imagenation the previous month. Weeks later, former CEO of Central European Media Enterprises Michael Garin stepped into the chief exec role. In May, ADFC moved its operations from under the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage banner to twofour54’s Media Zone Authority umbrella, which is a big part of the reason the Circle confab has been nixed. “It was a very positive move for us and brings us closer to the heart and development initiatives for media,” Shepheard says. “But with that we had a review of things and what it is we were going to be focused on. Now, we’re geared much more toward physical production and the development of local infrastructure.” He cites a similar event — the Abu Dhabi Media Summit — which is skedded in spring, as a parallel initiative. Their focus would be toward making that event stronger. “For us, the Circle Conference was about developing networking capabilities for people across the region and looking to incentivize projects to come into the region,” Shepheard says. “We’ve reassessed the agenda and it is much more focused now.” He adds that the Circle was a successful event — particularly last year’s installment, which saw more than 600 delegates attend. “It allowed us to have really high-level contacts and that’s been a good vehicle to establish Abu Dhabi.” Reflecting upon the recent changes in the region, Shepheard stresses that it’s all been positive.”Everything goes in cycles,” he says. “But one of the key facts is that now there is a lot more production occurring in the region than ever before. There’s been a big boom in the TV and commercial sector and ‘Mission: Impossible 4′ was shot here this past year.” He points that Imagenation is still “going strong” having filmed its first two Emirati pics — “Sea Shadow” and Tobe Hooper’s “Djinn” — and it also co-produced Matt Damon and Kate Winslet starrer “Contagion,” through its financing partnership with Participant Media.But while Circle may be no more, ADFC will continue its Shasha Grant, which gives a regional filmmaker a $100,000 development prize. This, says Shepheard, remains part of the new focus: “Our mission, of course, is to support fresh voices from the Arab world.”
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