Cannes debut 'a surreal experience', says Moroccan filmmaker

Prestigious screening follows Abu Dhabi Film Festival grant

ABU DHABI // A Moroccan filmmaker who received funding from the Abu Dhabi Film Festival will realise a lifelong ambition when her debut feature is screened at the Cannes film festival today.

On the Plank is the only Arab entry to be shown in the festival's prestigious directors' fortnight category.

Leila Kilani, the film's director, said she was "more than excited".

"It's surreal and a totally new experience for me," she said.

The film, which explores the lives of our women runaways, was awarded a post-production grant last year by Sanad, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival's development arm.

"The grant helped us in the post-production," Kilani said. "It was a material support, but Sanad also offered moral support, too.

"It's an exciting period for film in the Middle East. This is linked with a new consciousness in public institutions which recognises that cinema is a very powerful media and can build a new image of the Arab world."

Kilani has previously directed a number of documentaries.

Her comments came as Sanad announced funding for 11 films. Nine projects will receive up to $20,000 to cover development and two will receive up to $60,000 for post-production.

About 100 filmmakers applied for financial support. The fund will begin a second round of selections on July 1, with results to be announced in late August.

"We had a lot of good projects in development, but we had to make a choice because we couldn't give a grant to everybody," Marie-Pierre Macia, the head of Sanad, said. "The first thing we look at is the quality of the project, the subject and the writing.

"The next set of criteria include the previous work by the filmmaker as well as the financial plan.

"It's important at the development stage to consider the feasibility of the project and whether it will be finished."

The fund was set up to encourage Arab filmmaking and conducts year-round workshops and seminars for directors.

It has an annual budget of $500,000, but less than half was spent in the first round this year because organisers expect a late surge in applications.

"We will receive more that are related to the Arab Spring for the next submission in July," Ms Macia said.