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Arab Genre Films Get Boost From Beirut’s Maskoon Lab (EXCLUSIVE)

Just as Netflix tries to gain traction in the Middle East by backing local genre series, such as its first Arab original, “Jinn,” from Jordan, and Egypt’s upcoming “Paranormal,” Beirut’s Maskoon Fantastic Film Festival is launching the region’s first platform dedicated to genre films.

Five Arabic-language projects, ranging from a zombie comedy to a supernatural female-empowerment drama, have been selected for the Maskoon Fantastic Lab’s pilot edition, which is set for Nov. 7-8 in Beirut’s Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts. All the projects have a strong sociopolitical subtext, organizers say.

“Arab producers and film festivals haven’t really embraced genre cinema yet,” said Myriam Sassine, the fest’s chief exec. “So we felt the need for a platform to encourage and help those filmmakers who would like to venture into genre”

The fest’s artistic director, Antoine Waked, underlined that, at a time when genre movies are making their way into festivals around the world, such as recent Venice Golden Lion winner “Joker,” genre storytelling can “inject new blood” into Middle Eastern filmmaking and help a new generation of directors to emerge.

The five projects chosen for the Maskoon lab include zombie comedy “Zayn,” by Lebanon’s Wissam Charaf (“Fallen From the Sky”), and “Plum Season,” a supernatural female-empowerment drama from Morocco’s Rim Mejdi. The other three projects are psychological thriller “Occurrences,” by Lebanon’s Nizar Sfair; “North,” by fellow Lebanese Selim Mourad (“This Little Father Obsession”); and dystopian drama “You Are in Trouble as We Laugh,” by Egypt’s Khaled Madhat Moeit (pictured).

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These projects will be mentored, and also judged, by a panel of experts comprising Swiss producer Annick Mahnert, who produced Laotian director Mattie Do’s “The Long Walk”; French VFX wizard Sebastien Rame (“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”); Jordanian director Rania Attieh (“Initials S.G.,” “Two Sentence Horror Stories”); veteran Lebanese producer Georges Schoucair; and Lindsay Peters, who heads the Montreal-based genre co-production market Frontieres.

They will pick which project gets to participate in Frontieres, where a select number of works in development are presented to a large group of prominent industry professionals.

The Maskoon Film Festival, which was launched in 2016, is the only genre film festival in the Middle East. It has forged close ties to other prominent international genre events such as Sitges, Fantastic Fest Austin, and the Fantasia festival in Montreal.

The 4th edition of Maskoon will run Nov. 6-10.

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