After suffering a bit of a slump, the Dubai festival is making strides on its market side thanks to what appears to be a strong lineup of its Dubai Film Connection co-production platform in which 13 promising Arab film projects will vie for funding and networking opportunities provided by what has become the only bona-fide co-production platform in the Middle East.
“We have a lot of returning directors and producers. So it’s pretty nice to see that it helps them,” says DIFF managing director Shivani Pandya, who is launching the Dubai Investors Club, a two-day component of the Dubai mart where high-net-worth individuals from the region will gain insight and connections with people from the international film community to “learn about film financing as an avenue or an investment opportunity.”
As for projects at the Dubai Film Connection, which is run by Jane Williams, they include Palestinian director Najwa Najjar’s drama “The Son of a Very Important Man,” about the complicated divorce of the son of a famous Palestinian revolutionary from his Nazareth-born wife; Israeli-Arab actress Hiam Abbass, who will appear in the upcoming as-yet untitled “Blade Runner” sequel, will present her sophomore directorial effort, “A Girl Made of Dust,” about a family living in a village near Beirut during the 1980s Lebanese civil war; and Egyptian director Nadine Khan’s “In the Land of Wonder,” a contemporary Cairo-set adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.”
Najjar won the top Dubai Film Connection prize in 2011 for her sophomore film “Eyes of a Thief,” a psychological thriller that sold in several international territories and was submitted by Palestine as its 2015 foreign-lingo Oscar contender.
The DFC provides prizes from supporting institutions including $10,000 from exhibitor-distributor duo Cinescape/Front Row; $10,000 from Arab broadcaster Art; $5,500 from international organization La Francophone; and $25,000 from the Dubai fest. In addition to the cash prizes, they will also be selecting five filmmakers for complimentary accreditation to the prestigious Producers Network at Cannes.
“We play a fundamental role in supporting filmmakers from the Arab region to build strong networks with film industry professionals from across the international industry,” boasts Williams, who set up the Dubai fest’s Industry Office in 2009 and has been instrumental in growing the Dubai mart into the world’s main Arab cinema mart.
Two years ago Dubai also zeroed in on local distribution woes for Arab movies by forging a deal with some of the region’s biggest distributors, including Gulf Film, Empire, Front Row and Vox, under which they release at least one locally produced film unspooling at the fest.