Moroccan villagers doing battle with a rapacious mining company, armed only with poems and songs. Four aging Sudanese filmmakers looking to inspire a love of cinema in their countrymen. A celebrated South African poet living out his final days on a mental journey into his own past after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Their stories of courage, determination and hope are among this year’s selections for Final Cut in Venice, the Venice Production Bridge workshop providing post-production support and networking opportunities to films from Africa and the Arab world.
Taking place from Sep. 1-3, the program awards prizes and financial assistance to six selected projects, while offering an opportunity for producers and directors to pitch their films to foreign buyers, distributors, producers and festival programmers in order to facilitate the post-production process, promote possible co-production opportunities and access the international distribution market.
Established in 2013 to provide completion funds for selected films from Africa, Final Cut expanded in 2014 to include projects from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. This year, organizers are also adding a day of one-on-one meetings with participants of the Venice Production Bridge’s Gap-Financing Market — an exciting opportunity for African and Arab filmmakers to bring their projects to the global market.
“Filmmakers know that to be part of this kind of industry workshop…means to launch the film on an international platform. The film immediately gets more visibility,” said Final Cut head Alessandra Speciale. “It makes it easier for the filmmaker to find a distributor, or to be selected by a big festival.”
Recent Final Cut alumni include Etienne Kallos’ “Die Stropers” (“The Harvesters”), which won critical acclaim after its Cannes Un Certain Regard premiere this year; “The Wound,” by John Trengove, which opened the Panorama section of the Berlinale in 2017; and “Félicité,” by Alain Gomis, which won the festival’s Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize that year.
Another notable triumph this year is “aKasha” (“The Roundup”), the feature debut of Sudanese helmer Hajooj Kuka, which will world premiere in Venice Critics’ Week, a year after winning Final Cut’s first Biennale Prize for best film in post-production.
“After six years, we have a film in Venice. This is a big achievement for Final Cut,” said Speciale. “It’s a big confirmation that we are working very well, and we are launching films” from new directors.
The full line-up of participants this year includes “Amussu” (“Movement”) (Morocco), Nadir Bouhmouch’s documentary about villagers who decide to fight back against the mining company whose ecological impact is destroying their community; “Banc d’Attente” (“The Waiting Bench”) (France-Chad-Germany), Suhaib Gasmelbari’s portrait of four elderly filmmakers and lifelong friends who travel across Sudan with a mobile cinema, bringing their love of film to their countrymen; “Bi ‘Elem El Wossoul” (“Certified Mail”) (Egypt), the story of a suicidal young mother who’s forced to confront her depression on her own when her husband is imprisoned, by Hisham Saqr; “Mother, I am Suffocating. This Is My Last Film About You” (Lesotho-Germany), an experimental docufiction by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese; “Haifa Street” (Iraq-Qatar), Mohanad Hayal’s feature about a sniper who kills a man on a street in Baghdad, and refuses to let anyone claim his body; and “Untamed” (South Africa-Zambia), a documentary exploration of the dying days of a celebrated South African poet, by Simon Wood.
Speciale noted that 90 projects were submitted this year — a 50% increase from 2017 — with a growing number coming from countries with little filmmaking infrastructure, such as Lesotho, Libya, and Sudan. “[Final Cut] is a very important observatory for what is going on [in Africa and the Middle East], and gives us the opportunity to get in touch with a new generation of filmmakers,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”