Cannes Festival: Filmmakers branch out from the region to the rest of the world

We speak to some of the regional filmmakers who presented their progressive films at the Cannes Film Festival’s UAE pavilion last week.

Joint Possession by Leila Kilani. Courtesy Dubai International Film Festival
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A select group of accomplished regional directors pitched their work to buyers, film festival organisers and festival heads at the Cannes Film Festival’s UAE pavilion last week.

The 15-minute presentations were part of the partnership between Dubai Film Market and Marché du film, to provide a window into the talent and innovation flying out of the Middle East.

The five films presented were: Joint Possession by Leila Kilani, Susan Youssef's Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf, Poisonous Roses by Ahmed Fawzi Saleh, Until the End of Time by Yasmine Chouikh and Annemarie Jacir's Wajib.

"It's the story of a woman who decides to organise her own funeral. She asks the village gravedigger for help – as the preparations advance, a love story is born between them – and they both rediscover life and love in their journey toward death," said Algerian director Chouikh about Until the End of Time.

Meanwhile, Syrian-Lebanese director Youssef's Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf is a case of steady progress.

"This film, Marjoun and the Flying Headscarf, first started out as my short film while I was a student at the University of Texas. It had its premiere at Sundance in 2006," she said.

“Eleven years later, the story of an adolescent girl in Arkansas who searches for identity in a headscarf and a motorcycle in the aftermath of her father’s imprisonment, has been turned into a feature film.”

Palestinian director Jacir described Wajib as "a drama with comedic elements".

"It's about a father and son relationship starring Mohammad Bakri and Saleh Bakri, the first time they have appeared in a film together – and it all takes place in a day in the Palestinian city of Nazareth." Moroccan director Kilani has produced five documentaries and a feature-length film, On the Edge, in 2011. Her latest work, Joint Possession, is set in the Moroccan hills of Tangier, where new real estate projects have forced the emergence of clandestine shelters called clandos. Mansouria is home to a family who face a heart-wrenching decision on whether to sell the estate worth millions.

The projects are all at different stages of the production process: Jacir has just completed shooting her film, while Youssef and Chouikh’s films still need post-production work.

After her pitch, Chouick said she was pleased to showcase her work at one of the film’s industry most important gatherings. “It represents a lot as it puts the project under the spotlight professionally speaking,” she said.

“It means a lot in term of visibility. Being showcased in the film market gives us opportunities in terms of eventual distributors, and it will also be an opportunity for last-minute fine-tuning as the movie is still in post-production.”

Youssef could not make the journey to Cannes as she recently had a baby.

Her film project was presented by producer Man Kit Lam who showed selected scenes for 10 minutes. “We hope our scenes at Cannes give a sense of our authentic landscape and specificity of our film,” she said.

“To show our clips as part of Dubai Goes Cannes is a serious step forward for our production.”

Jacir, who was in Cannes, said she is confident about her film’s chances of getting more industry support and being watched internationally.

"Wajib's producer is Ossama Bawardi, who has been responsible for many great films coming out of the Arab world in the last two years," she said.

“We already have a sales agent on board – we want to impress distributors and also film festivals. We will be finished with the film by the end of summer.”