Mohamed Bendjebbour on FrancOfilm festival: ‘French cinema is not only about France as a country’

“The UAE is becoming a big movie market in the region and the world, both in terms of ticket sales and revenue generated,” says Mohamed Bendjebbour, the audio-visual attaché at the French Embassy in the UAE.

The annual FrancOfilm festival returns to Abu Dhabi and Dubai this weekend, celebrating some of the best French cinema of recent years.

The festival begins on Thursday night with the invite-only Mena debut of Roschdy Zem's historical drama Chocolat (there is a public screening on Saturday), and continues over the weekend with screenings at Vox cinemas in Mall of the Emirates in Dubai and at Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi.

“The UAE is becoming a big movie market in the region and the world, both in terms of ticket sales and revenue generated,” says Mohamed Bendjebbour, the audio-visual attaché at the French Embassy in the UAE.

“As the third-largest cinema industry in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood, and the only country in Europe where domestic cinema makes up more than 40 per cent of the market, we think UAE citizens and residents deserve to be exposed to that wider choice of cinema. The French government decided to develop the concept of cinema in the UAE and the Gulf region at large as we have in other countries.”

The festival serves two purposes, says Bendjebour.

“Firstly, it’s a cultural mission to show the diversity of French cinema and language, and show that French cinema is not only about France as a country,” he says.

“We have Canadian, African, Luxembourgois, Swiss movies too. FrancOfilm is a good way to have a rendezvous that people know will happen every year and raise awareness about another type of cinema.

“Secondly, we want to meet the needs of the very diverse UAE audience. It’s not always easy to convince people to see independent cinema. Even among the French audience, I always say that they have a tendency to go to lots of cultural events when they live in Paris, but less so when they leave. We have to build up that market. With initiatives such as the Scene Club and Cinema Akil, both of whom we work with, getting more popular, too, we’re getting there.”

cnewbould@thenational.ae