Bahraini duo hope to build Arabic version of Pixar

Two young Bahrainis have founded their own company with a focus on making new technology in 3D work as a marketing and production tool for local companies.

The Qafza co-founders Baraa Abdulla, left, and Mohammed al Saqer are planning to hire as much homegrown talent as they can.
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MANAMA // As film audiences around the world ooh and aah at the breakthrough in 3D technology in films such as Avatar, two young Bahrainis hope their production company will add a new dimension to the thriving local media industry.

The ultimate goal for the co-founders of Qafza, Mohammed al Saqer and Baraa Abdulla, is to create a film company on the lines of Pixar Animation Studios, which has released several blockbusters, most recently the Academy award-winning animated film, UP. However, their priority is to develop a sustainable business model, which they think can be achieved by introducing 3D and animation to local businesses as a cost-effective production and marketing tool.

"We want to work with screenwriters and directors to develop movies, as well as animated short films and series," Mr al Saqer, 29, said. Their partnership comes at a time when a flurry of television series and movies are being filmed on the island as a result of increased interest from local and regional private investors. In the past six months about six television projects have been filmed in Bahrain, all of which had been backed up by investors taking advantage of the fact that actors, production crews, and equipment were readily available.

Mr al Saqer and Mr Abdulla realise starting their production company from scratch would be an uphill struggle. A video the company uses to showcase their services ends with an animation of their third-floor office exploding - summing up the challenges they face. "We came up with the idea when the investors backing us up asked how we plan to ensure that they sustain no losses if the idea doesn't catch up, and we figured that animating a sequence where the office explodes and they collect on insurance was one way to address that," Mr Abdulla said.

Despite the relative novelty of 3D to the local and regional markets, on a global scale - particularly in the West and Japan - there had been tremendous growth over the past two decades. "We approach companies with what we have to offer, be it for marketing or design, and after we explain how animation works and how it benefits them, the response is really positive," said Mr Abdulla, who handles Qafza's marketing and public relations.

The company also hopes to establish a home-grown talent pool. Hiring Bahrainis is a top priority, Mr Abdulla said. "Since starting operations four months ago one thing that has amazed us was the number of Bahraini talent that were readily available to us in this field. "We want this to be a full-Bahraini operation in the sense that none of the work gets outsourced to outside companies, say in India or China, because it can be done here for less with the same high standards because we understand the local market better," he said.

Qafza has been busy since it opened. Last month, the company wrapped up the television series and a movie, which they are planning to launch in the coming weeks. The Bahraini screenwriter Khalid Alruwaie, whose film Haneen ("Yearning") is set to debut in the Gulf Film Festival in Dubai this month, said that such projects strengthen the ground work of the industry in Bahrain and opens up the door for diversity in production and tackling issues.

"It opens up possibilities for me as a writer to know that the option to use 3D is there. It will help translate some of the things I write about into objects that people can see and relate too, and even for a director this creates endless opportunities to use it as part of a bigger project or a fully dedicated project," Alruwaie said. "I wouldn't mind collaborating with these talents to have an animated movie created once the opportunity comes and the time is right".

The Bahraini government has taken notice of the growing potential of the sector. In February, Sheikh Rashid bin Abdul Rahman al Khalifa, the ministry of culture and information undersecretary, said that the ministry's efforts to encourage people across the Gulf to film and produce television projects in Bahrain have not only enriched the cultural scene, but also benefited the local economy. "Bahrain has turned into a workshop. We have people filming here and we have requests from others to come and film, and this shows that we have a unique core of actors and that the facilities and infrastructure are there to support these productions," Sheikh Rashid said.