When it comes to nurturing new talent in the Middle East, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and its close collaborator the Abu Dhabi Film Commission are leading the way.
First, there’s Sanad, the fest’s development and post-production fund, with $500,000 in grant money at its disposal annually. Then there’s the ADFC’s training and internship programs, the Aflam Qaseera short film fund, New Voices documentary series and the Shasha Grant for script development worth $100,000.
For ADFF director Peter Scarlet, this sort of help is crucial to building the region’s young filmmakers.
“You know we’ve had some terrific proposals in large numbers for Sanad grants, and not even only from young filmmakers,” he says. “Some this year have been from acclaimed veterans like Omar Amiralay and Mohamad Malas, so the reaction from the people here has been huge.”
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David Shepheard, director of the ADFC, has also seen a huge response to the commission’s internship, workshop and development programs.
“The local emirati talent have been very supportive and have given a lot of backing for the various programs we have launched,” Shepheard says. “We’ve taken groups of filmmakers to the Sundance, Cannes and Melbourne festivals to help promote them and their talent to the international industry, and that’s just one example.
So it’s clear that despite a very youthful film industry in Abu Dhabi, things are moving forward apace, and the ADFF’s Arab film components have been a big part of this movement. The Emirates Competition is specifically seen as a crucial gauge of success and one local helmers aim to get work into. Though it’s been held for several years, this year for the first time it’s being presented as part of the festival, not as a separate event.
“Furthermore,” says Scarlet, “one of our objectives is to give Emirati filmmakers a better chance to meet and network with our many international guests, and to give those guests an opportunity to satisfy their own curiosity about what kinds of films are being made in this region and what kinds of people are making them.”