DIFF Daily 2010

Rawi Projects: Scripting a brighter future for regional film

Dec 16,2010 - 11:48 AM

In 2009, the Dubai Film Market launched the Rawi Mentor Programme, a programme of the Royal Film Commission Jordan and in consultation with Sundance Institute, whereby a number of screenwriters attend DIFF during the Dubai Film Connection to help them develop their projects further and network with industry professionals at the Festival.
Since December 14, the group has been in consultation sessions with their mentor, Mary Davies, attended networking sessions and also had meetings with international professionals attending the DFC. DIFF Daily caught up with the scriptwriters to find out how they’ve been enjoying the Festival.
Aseel Mansour
‘Abu Shanab’ – Palestine
Your short film ‘Pummelo’ screened at DIFF 2008. How has the Festival evolved over the years?
I’ve been attending DIFF since 2006 and it’s grown on so many levels. The first is the quality of selection seems to be getting better every year and that has a profound influence on younger filmmakers such as myself. On a direct level, I’m benefiting from being a part of the Rawi Mentor Programme. Indirectly, as the film programme gets better, we’re inspired as filmmakers to make better films by fine-tuning our scripts and raise the bar in filmmaking.
Have you found time to watch any films at this year’s DIFF?
I’ve watched ‘Six, Seven, Eight’, ‘Transit Cities’ and ‘This is My Picture When I was Dead’. As you can probably tell, I’m really interested in works by emerging filmmakers from this region.
Sulhab Khatib
‘The Building’ (Al ‘Amara) – Jordan
You’re a Rawi alumnus from 2007 and are now at DFC, three years later. How has the journey been so far?
It’s been really interesting. After Rawi, I spent a lot of time reworking and fine-tuning my script, as I got so much out of it. So in a sense, until about now, I wasn’t really prepared to share my script with potential partners.
How have the meetings and networking sessions been for you?

They’ve been great. There’s the financing aspect to the film, in the sense, looking for potential producers and financiers, but that aside, I’ve also been connecting and making contact with some excellent foreign crew – cinematographers and editors – so it’s been productive on all fronts.

Dima Hamdan
‘The Kidnap’ – Jordan
What has been the main focus of your consultation sessions with Mary Davies?
We’re all first-time feature filmmakers and our mornings are spent discussing the best way to pitch and present our scripts and projects to potential partners.
What’s been the most encouraging aspect of the various meetings and interactions you’ve had with industry professionals at DIFF?
We’ve had meetings with people from the Berlinale, World Cinema Fund and a couple of producers from Europe. When you’re a first-time feature filmmaker, you hear of all the challenges that film industries all over the world are facing. Especially in the current economic climate, film production all over is struggling to raise finance to realise films. For an emerging market such as ours, we’re all aware that it’s going to be even more challenging. But I think what’s been incredibly encouraging through my encounters at DIFF, is the international curiosity in Arab films and this desire to know more about our stories. It’s definitely a positive sign for what I hope will be a bright future for the region’s talent.

Nizar Wattad
‘Land of the Brave’ – USA
What do you make of the increasing international interest in Arab cinema?
There’s been a political shift in the last 10 years and that’s brought an intense focus on the Middle East, which has had both positive and negative repercussions. The commercial viability though really depends on Arab audiences, who will have to help develop the industry.
How is this interest helping filmmakers? There appears to be a high degree of enthusiasm and curiosity about understanding the craft…
The region’s filmmakers have always had the energy. The interest from abroad is encouraging, but for us to truly develop a thriving local or regional industry, we need Arab audiences to go out and watch our films. Institutions such as The Royal Film Commission Jordan have done a great deal for developing artists and film festivals in the region are doing a phenomenal job in exposing our films to the region’s audiences.
Kasem Kharsa
‘Shelter’ – Jordan/Lebanon
As a young filmmaker with a script for a debut feature, how have the various film festivals and initiatives in the region helped you?
For filmmakers from the region, the more festivals and initiatives there are, the better it is for us! I’ve greatly benefited from the Rawi Screenwriters’ Lab, which is The Royal Film Commission’s screenplay development lab, in consultation with the Sundance Institute. My project ‘Shelter’ was a co-recipient of the Shasha Grant awarded by the Abu Dhabi Film Commission. Dima Hamdan’s ‘The Kidnap’ was the other recipient of the award. And now we’re both here with three other scriptwriters attending the DFC at DIFF. So for our scripts, it’s just a gradual process of development.
There appears to be a lot of interest from European producers and professionals. How has the response been from Arab industry professionals?
It’s been promising. I’d ideally like to see more co-productions between Arabs and Europeans. That’s what I’m looking at for ‘Shelter’. The Europeans have the expertise and the Arabs have the vested interest to make films that take our stories on to a larger platform.

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