The Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s Sanad fund is opening up to Arab-themed projects by non-Arab directors and producers in a move that may help establish more of a bridge between film industries in the Middle East and the West, especially with Europe.

Sanad, which plays an important role in fostering filmmaking in the region, is steadily stepping up efforts to help Arab directors and producers get their pics made, even though its budget remains unvaried at $500,000 total per year. The fund awards development grants worth up to $20,000 and post-production grants up to $60,000.

“We had to ask ourselves: what defines an Arab film?,” said the fest’s director of programing, Teresa Cavina. The first step was to support works by directors of Arab descent but living abroad, who no longer have an Arab passport.  “Now we’ve taken it a step further: if there is a documentary of a film that tackles very important questions for the Arab world, we will support it even if the director has no Arab ties,” she added.

Cavina cites Danish director Janus Metz’s docu “Armadillo,” about the Danish military during the war in Afghanistan, as an example of what would qualify.

“Sanad is always a work-in-progress, because we try to be as close as possible to the needs of filmmakers,” Cavina said. “Of course, what we can give as a fund is helpful, but it does not constitute the full budget for a film; so what we need to do is to help them meet co-producers.”

To help Sanad-supported pics find more financing, they’ve expanded the co-production forum this year (pictured) and have plans to expand it further going forward into a bona fide co-production mart.

“We are not just a film fund; we adopt our projects,” said Cavina. This goes in the direction of having Sanad function as a full-service entity for filmmakers, that also encompasses mentoring and advice on matters such as what’s the best fest to launch a specific pic.

A noticeably larger Gallic group is attending the current Sanad co-production forum, comprising reps from Memento Films Intl., MPM Film, Rezo and Wild Bunch. Among others also attending are the U.K.’s Dogwoof and regulars such as Hong Kong-based Fortissimo.