DIFF Daily 2011

Making The Connection

Dec 08,2011 - 10:38 PM

BY RANIA HABIB

‘The One Man Village’, by Lebanese director Simon El Habre had its world premiere at the 2008 Dubai International Film Festival, (DIFF) where it won the Special Jury Prize. The documentary was later screened at the Berlinale, and at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, where it won the award for Best International Documentary. This success story was born out of the first Dubai Film Connection (DFC) programme, five years ago.

Jane Williams, director of the DFC, says that’s one of her fondest memories from the past five years. ‘Simon came to the first DFC, and he came back the next year with a finished film which was absolutely stunning,’ she says. ‘At that moment, I felt that what we were doing is really fantastic.’

That’s just one of the many success stories that have transpired from the DFC, one of the region’s leading co-production markets. Williams admits that it’s by no means the only co-production programme in the Arab world, but that it has succeeding in shaping aspiring filmmakers into professionals. ‘We sort of lead the way as a co-production market because there were certain things that we required people to do,’ says Williams.

‘They had to have producers. Filmmakers hated that, but they saw that unless they had producers, they wouldn’t be able to have serious conversations with people from abroad. We also asked them to write a synopsis, scripts and material in English, and show us examples of their previous work. So even though we weren’t the only people with a co-production market, what we started to do is create a culture for people to recognise that they could get support if they put their ideas in a format that enabled people to engage with them and their projects.’

The idea for the DFC came to Williams and her colleagues back in 2006, when she came to DIFF to set up the Industry Office. The invitation list was packed with Hollywood studio executives, but Williams felt these were not the people who’d be interested in meeting Arab filmmakers, or seeing their films. So, instead, they initiated a strategy of inviting industry professionals from all over the world, who they knew would be interested in the growing regional film industry.

At the same time, Williams was contacted by Fondation Liban Cinéma, asking them to help Lebanese filmmakers whose funding had disappeared after the July 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon. The ensuing destruction meant that any previously-available funds were now being channelled into reconstruction projects. ‘We agreed we’d invite six directors from Lebanon, and introduce them to key people,’ says Williams. ‘In parallel, we also set up a two-day training programme for local filmmakers. Ali Mustafa and Nayla Al Khaja were part of the first group. The response we had to those initiatives was phenomenal, and we recognised that there was a real interest from people to meet with Arab filmmakers, and get involved with the films as co-producers or partners.’

Five years on, the DFC is going from strength to strength. But Williams says that the programme is reviewed every year, in order to keep it fresh and relevant. ‘There are a lot of co-production markets in the region now,’ she explains. ‘Do we feel that the DFC still has a place and role? We’ve always thought that it has in the past five years, but we don’t ever take it for granted that it will always be the most useful thing we could do. There’s an on-going dialogue.’

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