Cash infusion for Arab filmmakers

UAE sources make $620,000 available to aid in script development, post-production and marketing to bolster regional cinema.

Handout production still from the movie Amreeka, Nisreen Faour and Hiam Abbass in frame. The film is  a co-production with Imagnation Abu Dhabi. Courtesy National Geographic Entertainment/Rotana *** Local Caption ***  Nisreen Faour and Hiam Abbass in AMREEKA.jpg
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ABU DHABI // Arab filmmaking received a major funding infusion this week, courtesy of the UAE. The cash available for distribution includes a US$500,000 (Dh136,132) fund announced by the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF), and another $120,000 from Dubai Film Connection, the co-production arm of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF).

The cash can help in a variety of facets of filmmaking, including script development, post-production, hiring established directors and sales and marketing. ADFF launched its new fund, dubbed Sanad, this week at the Cannes International Film Festival. Peter Scarlet, the executive director of the Abu Dhabi festival, said it would help create a "vibrant and viable" cinema scene in the Middle East. "Sanad is a way in which the festival can support the region's filmmakers in developing their own voices and taking their place in the international film community," he said.

Sanad will fund story development and post-production for feature-length narratives and documentaries, the most "concrete" need in the Arab world, he said. "There's an amazing amount of untapped creative potential in the region and these grants are an important building block," he said. With post-production grants of up to $60,000 and development funds up to $20,000, Sanad could address the problem of money lost by film-makers who take underdeveloped scripts into production without polishing them, he said.

"Putting them through a development project under the careful eye of professionals will help that," he said. The submission panel, headed by Marie-Pierre Macia, an Algerian filmmaker and former curator of international films for the San Francisco International Film Festival, began accepting submissions last month. Eissa al Mazrouei, the festival's project director, said five scripts arrived in the first two weeks.

"The feedback has been phenomenal," he said. "In terms of filmmaking, the Arab world is fertile ground and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival is at the forefront of nurturing the region's film culture." Also this week, the Dubai festival announced a $10,000 boost to its annual co-production funding programme for Arab cinema, Dubai Film Connection (DFC), bringing the grant money available to $120,000. Now in its fourth year, the DFC offers prize money but also acts as a networking platform for newcomers to meet directors and experts in film distribution and sales.

Among the films DFC helped to fund are City of Life, the Emirati feature film about Dubai which completes its fourth week at UAE box offices tomorrow, and Amreeka, the light-hearted story of a Palestinian immigrant family which screened at last year's Sundance Film Festival and won the International Federation of Film Critics prize at Cannes. "One of the founding objectives of DIFF has been to encourage regional filmmaking talent, not only through creative support but financial and production assistance and know-how," said Shivani Pandya, the managing director of DIFF. "DFC has successfully accomplished this goal, and has drawn the interest of film-makers of Arab origin globally to Dubai."

Jac Mulder, a film director who has been based in the UAE for 11 years and was a recent winner of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission's short film competition, Aflaam Qaseera, said the funding from both emirates would encourage outside investors. "The sooner people start to invest in the industry then the sooner the whole cycle will begin to develop," he said. Mr Mulder said it was important to recognise the long-term economic benefits of investing in films.

"A lot of people have lost money by investing in real estate over the past couple of years and they are looking for alternative avenues. "If a film is done well it will make a director money for the rest of his life, but at the moment there are no examples of big films from the region. Funds like this will help to lead the way. The potential of making money in filmmaking in this region is enormous because of the number of people and nationalities living here. Plus, the whole world is fascinated with the Middle East at the moment. There is so much untapped history and untold stories here that it makes for a whole new flavour of storytelling.

"If someone is willing to back them and to do them properly then it will benefit the whole region."