Panellists at the on-going Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF) spoke of the need to create pan-Arab talent agencies as a key step in the development of a regional film industry.

“Is there a star system in the Arab world?” asked Quinta Communications’ Tarak Ben Ammar at a panel about emerging stars during the festival’s Doha Talks series. “It certainly needs to be developed and in order to do that we need to understand the Arab world which has huge potential and is unfortunately very under-developed.”

The region’s largest film market, Egypt, is the only one with an established star system – it has produced major stars such as actress Yosra who is serving as president of the DTFF jury. However as most other markets in North Africa and the Middle East are small, panellists said it makes sense for them to create stars that have impact across the region.

Ben Ammar went on to explain how he is attempting to create regional stars with films like Black Gold, to be co-financed by the Doha Film Institute (see separate story), which stars French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim alongside Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto. The cast also includes 40 Tunisian actors and thesps from Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco.

“We need a CAA of the Arab world – and I’m exploring with some partners how we can create one to help orientate actors into cinema, TV and advertisements,” said Ben Ammar, referring to the powerful US talent agency.

Ahmed El Attar, who cast the Arab actors in Black Gold, said the region lacks expertise both in casting movies and managing and advising talent: “We need something that’s pan-Arab and can also take stars beyond the region – a lot of Arab actors speak Arabic, French and German. There are a lot of talented actors who can play the roles that Omar Sharif played 50 years ago.”

Ben Ammar also pointed to the region’s TV industry as a potential star factory – at least until more cinemas are built and the film industry catches up: “We’ve seen in the past ten years during Ramadan the production of TV series that give actors the chance to work on 30 episodes.”

He also talked about the success of the Turkish TV industry: “They’ve cornered the TV market with incredible series and wonderful actors – and they’ve invaded the Middle East with very good-looking and European-looking Muslim actors positioned in a very smart way.”

The panel also looked at the star-driven film industries of Hollywood and Bollywood to see what lessons they hold for the Middle East. Both are heavily dependent on stars, although former CAA co-chairman Rick Nicita spoke about the fact that Hollywood stars don’t have the clout they once had.

“The star system hasn’t gone, but the value of stars has changed,” said Nicita. “They used to guarantee box office, but now it’s come down to legitimisation of the focus on the movie. They can help break through the clutter in the media, but the collective judgment of the audience could still be that we don’t want to see this.”

The panel closed with Pinto, who is attending the fest with Julian Schnabel’s Miral, taking to the stage to announce that two Qatari actors – Mohammed Al-Ibrahim and Helmy Ibrahim – have won bit parts in Black Gold following an auditioning process. The film is scheduled to shoot in Qatar for four weeks in January.