Arab investors should focus on independent movies that tell stories from their own region rather than directing their finances to big Hollywood blockbusters, one of the region's most accomplished film producers says. "There's enough money in America to finance big budget movies," said Tarak Ben Ammar, the chairman of Quinta Communications, which has studios in Tunisia, post-production labs in France and distribution throughout Europe.
"Where I think Arab money should be going [is] to help finance the Jeremy Thomases of the world and the Harvey Weinsteins of the world." Jeremy Thomas, the founder of Recorded Picture Company and HanWay Films, is a veteran British film producer responsible for films such as The Last Emperor. Harvey Weinstein is an American film producer best known for co-founding Miramax, which had successes with foreign films such as Il Postino and Life is Beautiful. Both attended the FT Business of Film Summit in Doha yesterday, where Mr Ben Ammar was speaking.
Mr Ben Ammar is credited with introducing the News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch to Rotana's Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and laying the foundation for their companies' mutual investment. He said Europe was the best market for Arabic films because the Middle East sector was still in its infancy. "Because we as Arabs don't have a market, or we have a very small one, I think we need to first link our movies to the European market, and get those European distributors," he said.
"We should not be aiming at the big budget. I think Europe is a great playground to make movies. Germany, France, Italy, Spain, England and Russia, now, could probably finance a movie that has international appeal for US$20 million (Dh73.4m) to $30m." Gabriel Khoury, a producer at Misr International Films in Egypt, said he was confused as to why the largest regional sources of film funding, such as Imagenation Abu Dhabi and Al Noor Holdings, had so far only announced specific plans for their investments in Hollywood movies.
"For the moment, all I hear about is investment in Hollywood," he said. "This is a fine policy, but you shouldn't put all your eggs in one basket. It's amazing to me that there is no clear structure for funding local films and Arabic films." Both Imagenation, launched in 2008, and Al Noor, launched last year, have announced plans to make local-language film and television productions eventually, but have not yet named any specific projects.
But Frederic Sichler, the former president of Rotana Studios and the current chairman of Amana Creative, a company he set up to facilitate collaboration in media between the West and the Middle East, said the funds began with Hollywood because there were well-established financing structures there, which were still lacking in this region. "One of the reasons the funds are not really active in the Middle East is that there is no satisfactory structure of financing," he said.