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Syrian short film makes history at 65th Cannes festival, with help from Dubai International Film Festival

Sat May 19,2012

Cannes, May 19, 2012 – Waiting for P O Box, a short film co-produced by the Dubai International Film Festival, has earned Syria its first ever in-competition berth at the Cannes Film Festival, the world’s most prestigious and celebrated cinema event.  The 65th edition of Cannes begins Wednesday, May 16 and continues until May 27, 2012.

The 15-minute film, a short about recognition, independence and originality and a commentary on the challenges of filmmaking in an emerging region, is one of 10 works selected from 4,500 international submissions to the Cannes Short Film Competition.

Directed by Syria’s Bassam Chekhes and produced by Bassan Chekhes and Jordan’s Rula Nasser of DIFF award-winning feature films The Last Friday and Transit Cities, the film is also supported by the Netherlands Film Fund and is one of the most recent beneficiaries of the Dubai Film Market’s Enjaaz post-production support programme for Arab filmmakers.  The Dubai Film Market is the festival’s comprehensive business hub, which covers the script to screen arc with components dedicated to development, co-production, post-production and acquisitions.

The film follows Mustafa and Ayoub, two Arab filmmakers struggling to make their film. Hindered by the local mismanaged funding entities, they are forced to resort to foreign funds, where they are challenged by the lack of meaningful translation. Waiting for P O Box, which will make its global debut at Cannes, stars Yazan Al Rousan and Rami Al Nihawi.

Masoud Amralla Al Ali, Artistic Director of the Dubai International Film Festival, said the unorthodox and brave film captured the challenges, peculiarities and rewards of filmmaking in the region.

“Whether it is documenting the struggle to make a film or the struggle to survive from one day to the next, films and film festivals at their best remind us that we all have a shared journey, that none of us succeeds independently,” Al Ali said. “The team behind Waiting for P O Box has worked hard to reach this pinnacle of global cinema, and we at the Dubai International Film are proud to play even a small role in taking this film to the world.”

Producer-director Bassam Chekhes said: “One aspiration of the film is to create an honest, productive and dynamic relationship between the Arab funds and the filmmakers, a relationship that is based on transparency and direct involvement, and for me the way the Dubai International Film Festival responds to these challenges is a landmark.” 

Enjaaz, the Dubai Film Market’s post-production support programme, supports up to 15 Arab documentary and fiction feature films annually, offering up to US$100,000 per film. The initiative has supported more than 35 Arab and Arab-origin films since its launch in 2009, including numerous features that have gone on to reap global acclaim, such as Egyptian inner city drama Cairo Exit, UAE heritage biopic Hamama, Iraqi feature Leaving Baghdad, Palestinian love story Habibi; Algerian drama Ouardia Once Had Sons, Lebanese drama Heels of War and Jordan’s The Last Friday. Other 2012 recipients will be announced this summer.

Cannes 2012 is also host to other Arab films and talent: post-revolutionary Egyptian feature film After the Battle by seasoned director Yousry Nasrallah (The Gate of the Sun, Summer Thefts) is among the 22 titles vying for the festival’s top prize, the Palme d’Or, alongside global auteurs Abbas Kiarostami and Ken Loach; Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch (Whatever Lola Wants)’s God’s Horses, a feature about poor children manipulated into becoming terrorists, is screening in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section, alongside 7 Days in Havana, an anthology directed by seven international directors including Palestine’s Elia Suleiman, returning to Cannes after the award-winning Divine Intervention in 2002.

A short film from Lebanon – Behind Me Olive Trees, directed by Pascale Abou Jamra and produced by ALBA – will also screen as part of the Cannes Cinefondation Selection, a selection of 15 films culled from more than 300 films schools around the world. Abou Jamra’s film is the first Lebanese selection to be chosen for Cinefondation.

Films from the Arab world are also represented in the Directors’ Fortnight, one of the independent events organized during the festival. Algerian director Merzak Allouache’s Le Repenti, which follows a young jihadist who surrenders and receives amnesty, will make its world premiere there.

Palestinian actress Hiam Abbas is also serving on the jury of the Cannes Film Festival this year. Abbas, whose extensive filmography includes DIFF films Paradise Now, Amreeka and Pomegranates and Myrrh as well as directing, joins global A-listers including fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, DIFF alumni director Alexander Payne and actress Diane Kruger, and actors Ewan McGregor and Nanni Moretti (president).

The Dubai International Film Festival’s participation in Cannes includes a series of events in and around its dedicated pavilion in the Village International.

The ninth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival will be held from December 9 to 16, 2012. Submissions to the festival’s in-competition and out-of-competition segments will open later this month.

The Investment Corporation of Dubai is the title sponsor of the Dubai International Film Festival. The ninth edition of DIFF is held in association with Dubai Studio City. Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Pearl, Emirates Airline and Madinat Jumeirah, home to the Dubai International Film Festival, are the principal sponsors of DIFF. The Festival is supported by the Dubai Culture & Arts Authority.

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