Arab Fest: Path to fun and funds

Venice Film Festival: Arab Fest Preview

Ten years ago, international filmmakers paid little attention to getting their films into an Arab festival, but now the region offers a growing promotional platform and industry crossroads for filmmakers throughout the world.

Over the past decade, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have launched hi-tech media hubs and glitzy fledgling festivals — Dubai (founded 2004), Abu Dhabi (founded 2007) and Doha Tribeca (2009) — that complement other key regional fests such as Marrakech and Cairo.

With a distinctive late fall slot in the festival agenda between Venice and Sundance, the Arab world’s top fests offer major media exposure, funding grants, networking opportunities and myriad partnership webs.

Michael Greenspan bowed his debut feature “Wrecked,” starring Adrien Brody, at Abu Dhabi in 2010 and the media buzz helped him secure a distribution deal with IFC Films. Jean-Jacques Annaud’s $55 million Arabian epic “Black Gold,” co-funded by the Doha Film Institute and Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications, will world preem at this year’s Doha Tribeca.

“We always aimed to have the world premiere at Doha Tribeca because it’s the perfect platform for this film, since it will allow us to maximize exploration of the film’s Arab cultural setting, while giving us access to international media,” says Quinta Communications’ Ali Jaafar, a former Variety staffer.

Filmmakers attending the region’s top fests have privileged access to sales agents and key industry players at events such as the Dubai Film Connection, considered to be the Middle East’s most successful co-production market, and Abu Dhabi Film Commission’s film finance confab, the Circle.

“Several films and filmmakers have benefited from attending Dubai, whether they’ve been picked up by sales companies, achieved further distribution or screening at other festivals or found funding for their next projects,” says Dubai managing director Shivani Pandya.

Films that have been picked up by distributors and sales agents at Dubai include Egyptian Mohamed Diab’s sexual harassment drama “678,” Dominique Mollard’s African migrant doc “Adrift: People of a Lesser God,” Ahmad Abdalla’s Egyptian underground art pic “Microphone,” Hesham Issawi’s forbidden love story “Cairo Exit” and Georges Hachem’s Lebanese wedding drama “Stray Bullet.”

“We can act as a strong catalyst for a film to gain a wider audience, even if it’s been shown in another major festival before,” says Abu Dhabi’s head of press, Doris Longoni, citing Hammad Khan’s Cannes-player “Slackistan,” which she says “found its real audience here.”

For Arab filmmakers, the fests constitute a key industry crossroads and provide vital funding, particularly important given the scarcity of subsidy coin in most Arab countries.

The Dubai Film Market offers training, as well as pre- and post-production grants. Abu Dhabi operates Sanad, a $500,000 annual development fund, while the Abu Dhabi Film Commission’s film finance confab, the Circle, offers $100,000 in development coin.

In Qatar, Doha Film Institute (DFI) runs the Doha Tribeca fest, an inhouse production arm and year-round training, development and production support. A host of Arab filmmakers have benefited from this dynamic, including Nadine Labaki, whose sophomore outing “Where Do We Go Now?” bowed at Cannes in May. The film was produced by Anne-Dominique Toussaint and her shingle Les Films De Tournelles. Co-producers were Pathe, United Artistic Group and Quinta Communications.

Ibrahim El Batout received backing from the DFI for his Egyptian renewal-themed “Hawi,” which won top Arab film kudos at Doha Tribeca in 2010; the helmer went on to win Dubai Film Connection’s Arte prize for his next pic, “Ali, the Goat.”

Mohamed Al-Daradji received coin from Abu Dhabi’s Sanad film fund for two projects: “The Train Station” and “In My Mother’s Arms.”

“Arab filmmakers are getting more and more progressive,” Pandya says. “They’re touching on ground-breaking issues such as sexual harassment, interfaith relationships, single mothers, immigrants, fracturing societies, war and revolution and mental illness.”

Longoni concurs: “Broken narrative structures, off-kilter characters and unconventional image compositions are being used to pose serious questions about the status quo.”

As Arab cinema springs into greater force, this will reinforce the presence and relevance of the region’s top fests.

Former StudioCanal topper Frederic Sichler, who launched Arab sales outfit Pacha Pictures at this year’s Cannes, is confident that the best is yet to come.

“There’s no question that this exciting new generation of young Arab filmmakers will be delivering a series of cinematic jewels over the next two-three years,” he says.

For many, Arab fests will be the platform to introduce their work to the world.

Related Links:
Sand and sprockets: Upcoming events

More Biz

  • Variety Promotes Lindsey Elfenbein to Managing

    Lindsey Elfenbein Promoted to Variety's Managing Director, Global Summits and Strategic Partnerships

    Variety has promoted Lindsey Elfenbein to managing director, global summits and strategic partnerships. Elfenbein joined the trade publication in 2014, where she has exponentially grown the conference business. Elfenbein is responsible for driving global revenue across Variety’s summit series. Her contributions have led to the creation of new ventures including the Silicon Valleywood Summit with [...]

  • Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com 22/01/2020 -

    NATPE 2020: TV Biz Looks Back and Forward as Streaming Wars Ensue

    MIAMI — The atmosphere at the annual NATPE conference this year was a bit of old school and a lot of new school. In keeping with NATPE’s remit as a content market, hopeful stars of new fall talk show prospects pressed the flesh in a flurry of meetings and receptions with station buyers. MGM TV’s [...]

  • Annabella Sciorra

    Annabella Sciorra Testifies That Harvey Weinstein Raped Her: 'My Body Shut Down'

    Annabella Sciorra said in court testimony Thursday that Harvey Weinstein raped her more than two decades ago. Called as a witness for Weinstein’s rape trial in New York, the actor — at times visibly very upset and crying — recalled the incident shortly after she appeared in Miramax’s “The Night We Never Met,” released in [...]

  • Picture by Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com 22/01/2020 -

    Tartikoff Honorees Call for Commitment to Diversity and Protection of Press Freedom

    MIAMI — Jeff Zucker didn’t mince words. “Nothing is as important than what I’m doing now,” the CNN Worldwide chief said of his long career in media as he was feted Wednesday night as one of five Brandon Tartikoff Award honorees. Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide and chairman of WarnerMedia News and Sports, sounded the [...]

  • Deborah Dugan

    How Deborah Dugan Sealed Her Fate at the Recording Academy

    Deborah Dugan’s ouster from the top job at the Recording Academy, just ten days before the Grammy Awards, was a shock to nearly everyone not directly involved in the decision. But according to multiple sources and the bombshell complaint her attorneys filed on Tuesday, she and the Academy establishment were working at cross purposes almost [...]

  • The Crown Season 3 Oliva Colman

    Record Intl. Growth Sees Netflix Beat Q4 Earnings Forecast

    Fast growth in international markets, contrasting with only sluggish subscriber gains in North America, was a major factor behind streaming giant Netflix’s better than forecast growth in the last quarter of 2019. The company is set on keeping up that international momentum. Globally Netflix added 8.76 million new customers in the three months to December [...]

  • Harvey WeinsteinHarvey Weinstein court hearing, New

    Weinstein Trial: Everything We Know About the Three Supporting Witnesses

    The prosecution laid out its rape case against Harvey Weinstein on Wednesday morning, spelling out the allegations in detail for the first time. In her opening argument, Assistant District Attorney Meghan Hast also described the testimony of three “prior bad acts” witnesses. Such testimony was critical in the prosecution of comedian Bill Cosby, and it [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content