ARAB BROADCASTERS WEIGH IN ON THE FUTURE OF MIDDLE EASTERN CINEMA
Mon Dec 17,2007
DIFF Discussion Panel Covers Funding, Talent and Initiatives to Stimulate Regional Filmmaking
Dubai, December 14, 2007: Seven major Middle Eastern Broadcasters assembled on a panel at the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) today as part of the Industry Office, DIFF’s slate of trade-related activities. The panel was comprised of executives from Showtime, ART, MBC, Rotana, Al Jazeera English, 03 Productions, and the Good News Group, who discussed the future of the region’s film industry.
All of the participant companies are active in film production. While they agreed that there is currently a ceiling of around 3.5 million USD for films in the Arab world and that co-productions and crossover films achieve greater funding, there was hope and optimism in the conversation, and a consensus that opportunities exist among the difficulties.
One of the biggest profit-makers is television, since the majority of potential audience members, particularly in Saudi Arabia, consume their cinema on the small screen. Accordingly, several of the broadcasters touched on new initiatives: Nabil Issa of MBC stressed that the company has embarked on a film initiative that will produce 3 to 4 films in the first year. Marc-Antoine H’Halluin of Showtime announced that from January 1, 2008, Showtime would launch a second channel aimed at its majority female audience, and that the company is dedicated to producing films for that category.
Rotana’s Ayman Halawani raised the point that production models and revenue streams currently slanted toward television are likely to change for good when cinemas open in Saudi Arabia, which he was confident would happen soon. Rotana produced the first Saudi feature, Keif al Hal, which covered its production budget and was popular across the GCC. ART, which co-produced the recent Nadine Labaki hit Caramel, produces and co-produces about 20 films each year, both for television and theatrical release. Through maintaining flexible funding formulas and a wide base of contacts, the company has been able to assemble the largest library of Arab films in the Middle East, largely from Egypt and Lebanon.
Good News Group’s focus has been to open an international market for Arab films. Representative Adel Adeeb stated that the company researched production models for six years before producing and marketing the successful Yacoubian Building (2006), and are actively making contact with Western stars to collaborate in new projects. Adeeb was confident that this model of partnership would break the elusive USD 3.5 million funding ceiling.
The documentary market, which traditionally has fewer funding options than feature narratives, also held promise. Fadi Ismail of 03 Productions stated that the company had found success through partnering with MBC group and other broadcasters. 03 has produced 250 hours of documentaries in the past three years, and thanks to the passion of young, energetic directors, appreciation is growing for documentary in the Middle East. However, the lion’s share of funding still comes from European sources, resulting in a higher profile for Arabic films in Europe than in the Arab world.
The other challenge that exists with documentaries is that films with high production values must of necessity be co-productions. While Ismail conceded that “money is not everything,” and acknowledged that the current model emphasizes quantity over quality, he raised the point that it is relevance and passion that matters with documentaries, not production values.
Giles Trendle of Al Jazeera English picked up this thread, stating that the broadcaster is trying to provide a platform for as many Arab filmmakers as possible, particularly for hard-hitting, controversial films that are quite successful and get a wide audience. Their tactic is to combine production values with high-impact themes that will be attractive to both Middle Eastern and international audiences.
The Industry Office is in its second year at DIFF 2007, and attracts filmmakers from around the region and around the world for a week of networking events, panels, workshops and strategy-building.
The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) was launched in December 2004 under the theme: Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds.
DIFF is held under the honorary Chairmanship of His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum. DIFF is a not-for-profit cultural event, presented and organised by the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority.
As the previous editions of DIFF have demonstrated, the Festival not only presents cinematic excellence from around the world, but is also an important high-profile platform for aspiring home-grown talent.
“Bridging Cultures. Meeting Minds,” has been hailed by all as a unique and relevant theme to promote better understanding and mutual respect between different communities and countries.
Since its inception, DIFF has become an important meeting point for international and regional filmmakers and industry professionals setting the foundation for potential future collaborations.
The past three editions of DIFF have presented more than 250 films, documentaries and shorts from more than 48 countries.
In 2006 the festival took place at the magnificent Madinat Jumeirah resort. As a further commitment of DIFF’s endeavours to facilitate greater opportunities for regional Arab talent, the Muhr Awards was launched. Another first for DIFF in 2006 was the setting up of the Industry Office, which was established with a view to exclusively assist the needs of all registered delegates.
The fourth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival will take place from December 9-16 and will present the best of Arab and international cinema in the feature film, shorts and documentary formats. Building on the success of last year, DIFF 2007 will also host the Muhr Awards and the Industry Office with new features.
For any further information and regular updates on DIFF 2007 please log on to www.dubaifilmfest.com
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