Dubai Film Festival Undergoing Drastic Downsizing Due to Budget Cuts

Dubai festival downsizes drastically in face
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images

The Dubai Film Festival is downsizing drastically due to budget cuts, doing away with its Dubai Film Connection co-production platform, which is the cornerstone of its market, and also scrapping its key Muhr Asia/Africa Awards section, and axing its Interchange lab/fund.

While rumors of these developments, which could lead to the demise of the entire Dubai fest, had been swirling, confirmation — and some, albeit scant, specifics — about the cuts came from Dubai Film Market manager Samr Al Marzooqi. He confirmed them without comment, on the sidelines of a panel the Abu Dhabi Film festival.

The Dubai Film Connection was the only bona-fide co-production platform in the Middle East; Dubai’s Muhr Asia/Africa Awards made the fest a gateway to Asia and Africa, besides the Middle East; the Interchange lab/fund, set up in 2012 in tandem with the Torino Film Lab, served as a bridge between the Arab and European film industries.

Also gone is industry expert Jane Williams, who set up the Dubai fest’s Industry Office in 2009 and then grew the Dubai mart into the world’s main mart for Arab cinema, and also a prime platform for Asian and African pics. The Dubai mart’s onetime chief, Pascal Diot, also left several months ago.

Meanwhile, to reduce the impact of these cuts on the Arab film industry, the Dubai mart has partnered with local distributors Gulf Film, Vox, Front Row Filmed Entertainment and the Kuwit National Cinema Co. on an initiative under which each of these distributors will pick at least one Arab title screening at the fest, starting from its upcoming edition, and secure its theatrical distribution in the region.

As for what caused the Dubai fest’s budget to be slashed, there is speculation that it may be a consequence of funds being reallocated due to the fact that Dubai is hosting the World Expo in 2020. Dubai has also lost some luster as a film shooting destination, ever since Abu Dhabi in 2012 introduced its generous 30% tax rebate, which lured the latest “Fast and Furious” and “Star Wars” installments.

Over the past decade, the Dubai fest managed to gain international prominence as the film fest in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region with the strongest industry side, complemented by a lineup mixing MENA titles with a strong selection of international and Hollywood pics.

While the Dubai fest’s lineup of Arab feature films for its upcoming 11th edition has not yet been announced, its World Cinema Section will include the Weinstein Co.’s “The Imitation Game,” Sony Pictures Classics’ “Foxcatcher” and Jean-Marc Vallee’s Reese Witherspoon-starrer “Wild,” from Fox Searchlight.

The 11th edition of the Dubai fest will run Dec. 10-17.

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