DUBAI — Normally, when one hears about a national focus at a film festival, it has to do with the screening program. But at this year’s DIFF, the Dubai Film Market (DFM) is reaching out to Europe’s Nordic region by inviting representatives from the film institutes, film funds, sales agents, distributors and producers interested in co-productions to learn more about the film culture and practices of the Arab world and do some intensive networking.
DFM head Jane Williams says this is the first time that Dubai’s film market has taken the initiative. “We’re always looking for new opportunities for the Arab producers and areas where partnerships and co-financing can be found,” she notes. She also points out that by coming to DIFF, the Nordic guests will have the opportunity to meet a greater percentage of the Arab film industry than they could at markets such as Berlin or Cannes.
An extensive list of professionals from the Nordic region will share a stand in the market, participate in panels and networking events and get the scoop on sources of financing, available government support and distribution opportunities between the regions. Some 20 films from the region will be available in the Cinetech and a feature produced by each of the Nordic countries will screen in DIFF’s Cinema of the World strand.
Swedish Film Institute Festivals Manager Petter Mattson says the migration issue has heightened interest in this collaboration. “Sweden together with Germany has welcomed the biggest amount of refugees in Europe from Syria,” he notes. “The question of building a stronger relationship on a cultural level between the north and the south is therefore even more important,” he adds. “We need to do everything we can, within our respective fields, to facilitate understanding between these very different cultures and film is definitely a good starting point.”
Williams also underscores that it is important that expat Arab directors realize that they are eligible to apply for the Dubai Film Connection, the co-production market of the Dubai International Film Festival, as they may not be able to easily access the national funds of their new country. She says, “Sometimes they want to tell stories that have backgrounds that the people in the funds don’t understand. That’s why funds from other parts of the world are interested in coming to Dubai to understand more about the film cultures in the region, the stories, the players and where there might be possible partnerships.”
Both Williams and Mattsson agree that having the Nordic delegation at DIFF is an important first step to build better networks between the Arab region and the Nordics. As Mattsson notes, “In the end we, of course, want more film rights to Swedish and Nordic films to be sold to the region, but I realize that this is a goal that we have to be patient with reaching.”
The Nordic delegation includes Danes such as Noemie Ferrer Schwenk, Head of International at the Danish Film Institute; Nicolai Korsgaard, Sales Manager at TrustNordisk; producer Eva Jacobsen whose project, “Western Arabs” with director Omar Shargawi is at the Dubai Film Connection; Mahdi Fleifel, a Danish director of Palestinian origin whose short documentary, “A Man Returned” screens in the Muhr short competition; Danish-Iraqi director Masar Sohail, whose short “The Republic of TM” screens in the Muhr Gulf competition; producer Thomas Heurlin who is developing “Marias Rejse” with Iraqi director Rania M. Tawfik; and helmer Andreas Dalsgaard, co-director with Obaidah Zytoon of the Arabian Nights documentary “The War Show.”
The Swedish attendees include Mattsson; Pia Lundberg, Head of International, Swedish Film Institute; SF Studios Sales Manager Peter Torkelsson; Linda Mutawi, the Swedish co-producer of “Ibni,” from Emirati director Lafi Abood; and Martin Persson, Swedish coproducer of “In the Land of Wonder” from Egyptian helmer Nadine Khan.
Rounding out the Nordic guest list is Laufey Gudjónsdóttir, Director of the Icelandic Film Center; Jaana Puskala, Head of Feature Film Promotion at the Finnish Film Foundation; Khadar Ahmed, a Somali director whose Cannes 2015 Cinéfondation Residence project “The Grave Digger” is being developed by Finnish producer Mete Sasioglu; and Kristian Takvam Kindt and Gjermund Granlund from Norway’s Film fra Sør fund.