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Doha Film Institute, New York’s IFP Team Up on First Middle East Series Lab

ROME – The Doha Film Institute has teamed up with New York’s Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP) to host the DFI Series Lab, which is being touted as the first curated workshop for fostering more serialized Arabic content in the Middle East.

Participants expected to make the trek to Qatar from the U.S. include Oscar-nominated producer Julie Goldman (“Life, Animated”) who will be presenting and discussing high-profile Facebook series “Humans of New York” as a case study; multi-hyphenate Ryan O’nan (“Fargo”); and Susan Lewis, who is head of development at Alicia Keys’ production company, Big Pita, Little Pita.

Beirut-set “Shankaboot,” considered the first Arabic online drama, will also be dissected as a case study, with Lebanese writer-director Bassem Breche recruited to attend the lab. The event runs from Jan. 29 to Feb. 2 in the Qatari capital of Doha.

A lack of Arabic originals is considered to be holding back the growth of Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in the Middle East, according to a recent report from research and analysis firm IHS Markit. More generally, Arabic scripted content is broadening its scope beyond the mostly formulaic shows known as Ramadan soaps.

Doha Film Institute CEO Fatma Al Remaihi said in a statement that the lab is “the first in the region to promote Qatari and Arab talent and skills in [the] serialized content [sector]” and called it an extension of the DFI’s efforts to support the production of “quality content” from the Middle East-North Africa region.

Selected directors, writers, and producers working in the Middle East will attend training sessions about the main script-to-screen steps required for multi-platform serialized content, including writing a pilot script, developing characters, story arc, episodes breakdown, how a writer’s room works, and production strategies and distribution models.

The Doha Film Institute, a key source of funding and an incubator for Middle East filmmakers, already holds a prestigious annual film industry event called Qumra (pictured), which blends together a creative workshop, co-production market, and festival elements. Qumra is set to run March 9-14 in Doha.

The new DFI Series Lab and Qumra are both indications that the institute is forging ahead with its activities despite the ongoing political crisis that has seen several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar. The turmoil prevented the institute’s executives from attending the Dubai Film Festival in December.

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