Films get a helping hand

A section of the San Sebastian Film Festival awards grants to films struggling with post-production costs.

A scene from The Last Friday, a Jordanian film by the Libyan-born director Yahya Al Abdallah.
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A section of the San Sebastian Film Festival awards grants to films struggling with post-production costs, writes Kaleem Aftab

The Last Friday, directed by Yahya Al Abdallah and Confession and Struggle, by Lebanon's Eliane Raheb, were both awarded grants in the Cinema in Motion section of The San Sebastian Film Festival, which wrapped up in Spain on Saturday.

Each year, Cinema in Motion awards grants from the Dubai International Film Festival, the Amiens Film Festival, the Fribourg Film Festival and some post-production studios in France, Spain and Portugal, to help films from the Arab world and Portuguese-speaking African countries. These are prizes for films that have been shot but are struggling with post-production costs. Previous winners have included In My Mother's Arms by the Al Daradji brothers and Najwa Najjar's Pomegranates and Myrrh.

About 15 films are submitted for the programme every year, and this list is whittled down to four or five which are then shown as works in progress to a private invited audience in San Sebastian. The programme is a collaboration between San Sebastian, Fribourg and Amiens International Film Festivals. Members of the selection committee from the three festivals discuss the submitted films and decide the final selection.

Now in its seventh year, four films were in the running for the six prizes that range from sound mixing services to 35mm prints being made.

Confession and Struggle, which won prizes from the Dubai Film Festival and the Amiens Film Festival, is a documentary exploring the Lebanese civil war from the point of view of two people living on different sides: Assaad Shaftari, a member of the Secret Services and Maryam Salidi, the mother of a young boy who disappeared during the fighting.

Winning three prizes worth €22,500 (Dh111,534) in post-production and a 35mm print was The Last Friday from Jordan. Starring Ali Suliman and Yasmine Almasri and directed by Libyan-born Yahya Al Abdallah, it is about the existential crisis of a divorced 40-year-old man who needs surgery and has to find the money to pay for it.

The other two films up for prizes were from directors who had previously been nominated for Cinema in Motion prizes. Annemarie Jacir won a prize in 2007 for her film Salt of the Sea and that same year Khalil Joreige and Joana Hajithomas presented their work Je Veux Voir, both of which went on to play at the Cannes Film Festival.

Jose Luis Rebordinos, from the San Sebastian selection committee, said: "We always choose the projects which we consider the most interesting ones every year, without taking into account if the filmmakers have been previously selected or not. The fact that the filmmakers of this year had already submitted projects in the past is just coincidence."

When I Saw You, the new film from Jacir, is set in the late 1960s and looks at the world through the eyes of a 12-year-old son of a Palestinian refugee in Jordan. Une Fusee Dans Le Ciel, the latest from Joreige and Hadjithomas, is a documentary shining light on a forgotten story in Lebanese history: a project by Manoug Manougian, a professor of mathematics, and his university students to launch a rocket into space. Rebordinos explained why these films made the cut: "The four films selected this year portray important trends in contemporary filmmaking, all of them focused on political and social issues of these countries: on the one hand, two documentaries about the recent history of Lebanon, one about the tragic civil war and the other about the intriguing tale of Lebanon's attempt to enter into the 1960s space race; on the other hand, two fiction films that also deal with reality: the life of Palestinian refugees at the end of the 1960s and a glimpse of actual Jordan through the portrait of a middle-aged man's mid-life crisis."

Speaking of Arab film in particular, he explains: "There are a lot of interesting ideas and strong political and social issues in today's Arab film, but the main obstacle is the lack of resources to produce these films and the difficulties to distribute and exhibit them around the world."

The prizes are granted to the films the committee believes are most likely to secure distribution or are of particular cinematic merit. The quality of the competition is such that nearly every film that makes the final selection is completed and has a healthy life at film festivals. Last year, the Al Daradji brothers were awarded prizes for House for Sale, which recently premiered at the Toronto Film Festival as In My Mother's Arms, while the big winner Sur La Planche, directed by Leila Kitani, launched at Cannes.

However, Mohammed Al Daradji, while singing the praises of the prize and of Abu Dhabi's Sanad, which backed his new film, did offer one word of warning to future winners. "Sometimes the cash prize offered by post-production studios is not enough to cover the job, so you end up having to pay some money in order to collect the prize and this can end up being an issue," he said.