DIFF Daily 2010


Dec 14,2010 - 12:18 PM

The Torino FilmLab Interchange Programme, organised with DIFF and EAVE, is developing 11 projects that aim to link the European and Arab film worlds. Following a week-long session in Turin in May, the writers, directors and producers have come to DIFF to refine their projects and pitch for backers on December 15 and interested producers should contact Lucas Rosant at the Dubai Film Connection. Ben Walters met some of them on a break from this week’s session – the participants were excited about their projects’ progress, apprehensive about the impending pitching sessions and a little fragile after the previous night’s opening gala.

Marta Donzelli, producer, ‘Beirut, I Love You’, about a female friendship in Beirut and New York
“Interchange is a great opportunity for me to build knowledge about the film industry in the Arab world. One of our challenges has been streamlining the story, which is about being an Arab woman in a world of MTV and globalisation. We were starting from a memoir by our writer, Zena el Khalil, about living in Lebanon and in New York after 9/11, as well as her 2006 blog about being in Lebanon during the war, which became popular around the world. But a film is something else and the tutors could help shape it. Zena needed to add more context and make the plot a clear, compelling line without losing the complexity of the situation. We have a French co-producer on board but we want someone from Lebanon as well. Beirut is one of the main characters of the film – the development of the story is tied to the development of the city.”

Zaid Abu Hamdan, writer-director, ‘Nostalgia’, about four Jordanian sisters reuniting to find their father
“My project is tackling a lot of taboos, pushing boundaries, but I chose to do it in a comedy so that it’s more easily digestible. It started when it hit me how different sisters are in Middle Eastern families to brothers. Females in the Middle East have a bit more gender independence but traditions are so powerful that they don’t always take the opportunity to be modern. In ‘Nostalgia’, the sisters are all quite different: one is religious, one is a ‘rich bitch’, one is rebellious and moves to Dubai or Los Angeles – depending where our funding comes from! I have experience as a short filmmaker – I’ve won awards [for ‘Baram & Hamza’] and ‘Bahiya… and Mahmoud’ is in the Arab Muhr competition at DIFF 2010. But a feature is a new challenge. I came to Interchange with a script but the tutors have challenged my ideas and guided me on how to format my script without influencing the content – unlike in Hollywood, where I live, where there’s often pressure on the story. And the participants have been really carefully chosen – I’m getting such constructive notes at exactly the level I’m looking for.”

Mousaed Khaled, writer, ‘Habibi99’, about a social-networking dating scheme that gets out of hand
“‘Habibi99’ is about coming to terms with reality, finding the strength to stop living in denial and live with the truth. I don’t have that much experience in writing so Interchange has helped me develop the concept into a story – the individual sessions with tutors and the interaction with other emerging screenwriters are really helpful. I’m in the middle of rewriting the project. Now there’s more pressure because we’re doing the pitching soon but I hope we’re well prepared.”

Christopher Simon, producer, ‘A Gaza Weekend’, caper set in Gaza after a virus makes people flee Israel
“‘A Gaza Weekend’ isn’t science fiction but it’s a fantastical situation where the border with Israel is closed because of a virus. It’s the first time Gazans are happy they have a wall! Our hero, Waleed, is a poor, slightly hen-pecked shoe-seller who comes up with a plan to use the tunnels to help an Israeli New Yorker get home. It’s a novel approach to a political situation – nothing political is said but we’re trying to do something original and fresh and show Gazans as ordinary people trying to live their lives. Waleed becomes a hero in his family’s eyes and there’s a moment of peace between him and this guy from another culture. Interchange has given [writer-director] Basil [Khalil] a lot of confidence and helped him develop a script. Since Torino he’s been able to take it to Sundance – it’s a real stamp of approval. It’s also a rare chance for producers to sit together and talk about their projects.”

Suha Araj, writer-director, ‘Khsara’, about a 29-year-old Arab American dealing with her identity as she reaches 30
“It’s a theme that holds true in Arab society but talking to various women it seems to be universal – if you’re unmarried after a certain age, eyebrows start to raise. So what do you do? You follow your career or your passion, creating yourself, but then if you decide you want to get married, you might not have all the options you’d like. We all came to Interchange with stories we wanted to tell, stories that are personal – not that this is autobiographical – and it helps us pull back from it and focus on what’s universal about the story. It’s really intensive and they don’t drop off in between events – after Torino you’re accountable for deliverables so since May this has been on my mind and helped it become the story I wanted to tell. I don’t have it all figured out yet but I feel I have the tools.”

Hind Shoufani, writer-director, ‘This War on Love’, a love story between Palestinian refugees in New York from very different backgrounds
“‘The War on Love’ is a tragic love story set in three cities about the clash of cultures within the same society – differences of education, faith, gender, age, being raised in the US or the Middle East, marrying for love or family obligation. It follows two young people who fall passionately in love. There are also issues of her brother being gay, her sister being on drugs – issues that are covered up in the Middle East. When he follows her to Beirut he has culture shock at her liberal background. I wanted to deal with the war and religious hypocrisy and the scary fact of Lebanon becoming a more religious nation. I heard about Interchange through DIFF and had a really interesting time in Torino – it helped me refine my story. There’s some trepidation in the Arab world because these issues can be problematic, so they’re helping me work out how far I can push things. I don’t want to lose the core of my message but I want to make sure we don’t wind up getting killed or banned or just not getting made because it’s too much of a slap in the face. It’s a real help in seeing which countries might be interested in helping develop the film.”

Presented By
Supported by
In Association With