The pilot Dubai Docs programme (Dec 10-12) is turning the spotlight on creative documentaries to help train film-makers in how to pitch and raise the finance for their projects. Louise Tutt reports.

As news dispatches report political and social turmoil in various countries in the Arab world with increasing regularity, international commissioning editors and audiences are beginning to yearn for a more nuanced view of life in the region.

Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) is responding this year with the launch of Dubai Docs, a pilot initiative with a particular focus on creative, rather than journalistic, documentaries.

“We get a lot of creative documentaries but it’s one of the most difficult areas to get funded, not just in the Arab world but in the world of documentary film-making,” says Jane Williams, director of Dubai Film Connection and Forum. “We wanted to create a platform for debate.”

The three-day event (December 10-12) will train seven producer-director teams in pitching techniques and give an introduction to the market ahead of the pitching forum on the last day. The aim is to help them find support for their projects by meeting invited documentary professionals from the region as well as Europe and the US. Working with documentary producers and experts Stefano Tealdi and Farida Fdani, the film-makers will receive training in the art of the pitch and the dos and don’ts of pitching, and will get detailed feedback on both their project and their pitching strategies.

The event will also introduce international professionals to the concept of creative documentary film-making in the Arab world and provide an insight into production in the Arab region.

“Within this context there are no pitching forums in the Arab world,” says Williams. “We wanted to launch one because it has an enormous educational benefit. It means a large audience gets to understand how commissioning editors make decisions, what kinds of concerns they work with, and how they work. We wanted to make that information available on a much larger level than on a one-to-one meeting basis.”

Williams points to Simon El Habre’s award-winning The One Man Village [pictured] as the kind of creative documentary the festival is keen to help nurture. The One Man Village, a portrait of a Lebanese village devastated by war where now only one man remains, tending to his animals, won both the Muhr Arab Documentary special jury prize at Dubai in 2008 and also the best international documentary award at Canada’s Hotdocs the next year.

DIFF is working with five partner organisations on Dubai Docs: the Arab Fund for Arts & Culture (AFAC), DOCmed, Screen Institute Beirut, Germany’s Robert Bosch Foundation and Denmark’s CPH:DOX Lab. Two projects have been selected from each of the first three and one from the Robert Bosch Foundation (see profiles, below).

Several observer projects from the other partners will follow the programme but will not pitch; all have Arab directors. The projects from the Robert Bosch Foundation are teamed with German producers while the CPH:DOX Lab projects match Arab directors with European producers.

The morning of the forum will see the seven projects pitched to the invited producers, commissioning editors, funders and representatives of non-profit organisations in panels of four. The afternoon will provide two hours of one-to-one meetings. The industry professionals will have their own programme of events over the three days and will be able to meet documentary film-makers from every strand of the festival and market.

“We want to create an induction into the Arab world for international industry professionals attending,” says Williams. Palestinian film-maker Hany Abu-Assad, director of DIFF opening film Omar, will give the keynote speech on the day of the pitching forum. His documentary credits include Nazareth 2000 and Fort Transit.

Dubai Docs 2013

Ahmed In Wonderland (AFAC)

Dir Erige Sehiri

Ahmed is a 30-year-old train driver who takes a trip from Tunis to the Algerian border. With music by Pink Floyd and Anouar Brahem playing in the background, Tunisian journalist and documentary film-maker Erige Sehiri gets to know Ahmed, the friends he lost after the revolution and what the future holds in Tunisia for young men like him.

The film is produced by Palmyre Badinier through her Paris-based company Les Films de Zayna. Her credits include Raed Andoni’s award-winning documentary Fix Me in 2012. Badinier is also an associate producer for the Palestinian company Dar Film.

Producers Palmyre Badinier, Les Films de Zayna
Budget $289,500
Finance raised to date $123,500
Contact Palmyre Badinier,

Dream Away (Robert Bosch Foundation)

Dirs Johanna Domke, Marouan Omara

German film-maker and visual artist Johanna Domke and Egyptian director Marouan Omara are developing a creative documentary about a group of young Egyptians who leave their home town to travel to the popular tourist resort of Sharm El Sheikh, an artificial place unrecognisable as Egypt to most Egyptians.

The trip is their way of dealing with the political, social and economic turmoil experienced by the country. “The title Dream Away encloses both the idea of longing for a different place or a dream that one has given up,” the directors explain.

Domke and Omara have previously co-directed the short documentary CROP, which screened at International Film Festival Rotterdam. German producer Roman Roitman of Cologne-based Filmbucht Filmproduktion is producing.

Producers Roman Roitman, Filmbucht Filmproduktion
Budget $200,000
Finance raised to date $27,000
Contact Marouan Omara,

I Have A Picture (DOCmed)

Dir Mohamed Zedan

Director, writer and producer Mohamed Zedan is a member of Alexandria-based independent production house Fig Leaf Studios. He contributed a segment to the collaborative fiction feature The Mice Room, which was made with support from DIFF’s Enjaaz fund.

Zedan’s first feature doc probes the changes in Egyptian society over the past decades through the history of Egyptian cinema. “I Have A Picture deals with the question of marginalisation in art,” Zedan says. “Those who are marginalised have always had different thoughts and ideas from those who formulate the public opinion.”

Producers Mohamed Zedan, Fig Leaf Studios
Budget $750,000
Contact Mohamed Zedan,,

In Grey Depth (DOCmed)

Dir Mona Lotfy

Through the story of the men who worked in the El Maghara coal mine in the Egyptian desert, Mona Lotfy will tell the story of Egypt itself. How did the miners cope working in complete darkness under the desert?

“It is a journey to the heart of the dark that resembles the brutality of the sensory deprivation we are enduring through life,” says Lotfy, making a comparison to the plight of all Egyptians. “How do we sustain this deprivation and pressure without losing our sanity?”

Cairo-born Lotfy’s short A Walk In The Grey Sun participated at the Arab Film Festival Rotterdam in 2012.

Budget $136,000
Contact Mona Lotfy,

Obscure (Screen Institute Beirut)

Dir Soudade Kaadan

Soudade Kaadan’s documentary feature Damascus Roof And Tales Of Paradise won the Muhr Arab Documentary award at DIFF in 2010. Her new film is an exploration of the answers to questions that emerge at times of war. How can people carry on after seeing such brutal images?

Obscure is being produced by Beirut-based KAF Production Company, the outfit set up by the Syrian-born, Lebanon-based Kaaden and her sister, Amira.

Producers Amira Kaadan, KAF Production Company
Budget $68,000
Finance raised to date $11,800
Contact Amira Kaadan,

Taste Of Revolution (AFAC)

Dir Maya Al Khoury

Syrian director Maya Al Khoury wants her debut documentary feature to bear witness to the struggle for freedom in Syrian. She follows five young activists in hiding or exile as they go about their daily lives. They are lives Al Khoury has become a part of as she points out the film itself is only possible due to the ongoing struggle that has liberated her to create a political project worthy of the Syrian people.

Taste Of Revolution is produced by Syrian-born Charif Kiwan of Paris-based Abounaddara Films, in which Al Khoury is also a partner.

Producers Charif Kiwan, Abounaddara Films
Budget $175,000
Finance raised to date $60,000
Contact Charif Kiwan,

Waiting For Dawn (Screen Institute Beirut)

Dir Mary Jirmanus

Saba Saba’s debut feature charts the story of 19-year-old Fatima Khaweja, who was killed by the Lebanese army during a peaceful protest at Beirut’s Gandour chocolate factory in 1972. Her story is almost forgotten now, but 40 years ago her death sparked a dynamic social-justice movement in Lebanon.

Saba, whose short documentary films have screened at international festivals, looks at how the country’s 20-year civil war erased Fatima and her legacy from the national memory and the possibilities for social change today.

Budget $20,000
Finance raised to date $20,000
Contact Mary Jirmanus Saba,