‘We want to give people good business opportunities as well as supporting film-makers,’ says Jane Williams, head of the Diff’s industry office, of Dubai Film Connection (DFC), which was established during last year’s festival as the Middle East’s first feature and documentary film co-production market.
‘I have the results from last year, and it’s been tried and tested - people come, they submit their projects, they win cash prizes and the money allows them to move forward.’
In 2007, 15 feature and documentary projects from Arab film-makers from around the world were presented to 80 international industry professionals, including guests from Fortissimo Films, Rhombus Media, FilmFour and Memento Films.
Shivani Pandya, Diff’s managing director says: ‘It is incredible that after our first year, we are able to state that over half of our projects have been or are in production. Clearly the quality of the projects impressed the international professionals in attendance.’
One such professional is Julie Bergeron, manager of Cannes’ Producers Network at the French festival’s Marche du Film: ‘Last year’s Dubai Film Connection proved to be an excellent platform for film-makers of Arabic origins and their producers,’ she says. ‘The Producers Network is happy to contribute to its success.
‘The producers of the three winning projects at the Dubai Film Connection will be awarded free registration for the Producers Network at the Cannes film festival in 2009.’
One of the 18 projects being showcased this year is The Passerby by Palestine’s Kamal Aljafari. Lebanon-born, Germany-based producer Levon Melikian of Cologne’s MediaConsult is positive about what represents a return to DFC: ‘During the 2007 DFC, we presented our project, Port Of Memory, and were able to close financing shortly thereafter,’ he recalls. ‘The film festival got us in contact with many key people from broadcasters and funding institutions. Jane Williams and her team made a strong effort to bring us into the contact with many key people from broadcasting and funding institutions. The general atmosphere is very positive and inspiring.’
A new Diff initiative which is already drawing a favourable response is the introduction of the Dubai Film Market (DFM), intended to stimulate regional and international film trade. ‘We already have more than 200 films in the market, and a huge number of people who have registered to attend,’ says DFM director Ziad Yaghi. ‘Buyers, sellers, acquisitions people and broadcasters have been waiting for just such a platform.’
Carine Chaiban, acquisitions manager at Bahrain’s Orbit Communications Company, accepted her invitation to attend the market without hesitation: ‘On a personal level, I like to attend Diff to see movies that are not usually screened in theatres in Bahrain, where I live. From an acquisitions point of view, I hope to use this year’s Diff to make contact with new providers and to catch up with existing ones. Attending film and TV markets such as this one allows you to keep abreast of the market’s evolution and the major players’ plans.’
Five distinguished panelists from very different backgrounds will appear at Diff for the third annual panel discussion of cinema as a means of cultural understanding - fitting Diff’s credo of ‘Building Cultures, Meeting Minds.’ They include Toronto-based critic and programmer Cameron Bailey, Jamaican-American singer/songwriter and activist Harry Belafonte and Algerian novelist Mohammed Moulessehoul. Hannah Fisher, the programmer of the festival’s Cultural Bridges segment, says: ‘We’re thrilled to have these guests, all of whom have a unique take on the issues, and all of whom have been involved in the cause of peace, mutual respect and dialogue between peoples.’
Jane Williams of the industry office has also devised an extensive education programme of interactive events throughout the festival, including a Young Journalist Award Workshop (in which international film critics will share insights with student journalists), a Professional Coaching for Producers open session hosted by film marketing expert John Durie, as well as an action-direction masterclass with Kathryn Bigelow, director of Point Break and The Hurt Locker.
‘To run a film festival in an area like the Gulf is unusual, because you do play a big role in development work,’ says Williams. ‘Our industry panels, focus sessions and networking sessions bring people together for the benefit of the local and international industry.’
MEET THE JURY
The Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) jurors will assign the prestigious Muhr awards, expanded this year to include Muhr AsiaAfrica as well as the established Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema.
Diff’s artistic director and director general of the competition, Masoud Amralla al Ali, says: ‘To have gathered this calibre of specialists is remarkable in itself, but more so for a festival as young as Diff.’
The jury for the Muhr Arabic feature-films category will be chaired by Russian film-maker Sergei Bodrov, and will comprise the Moroccan film-maker Ahmed El Maanouni, Arab actress Lebleba and Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif.
Indian film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan chairs the Muhr AsiaAfrica jury. His team is critic Olivier Barlet; South Korea’s Park Ki-yong, co-director of the Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival; Iranian film-maker and actress Niki Karimi; and Christian Jeune of the Cannes film festival.
The documentary section will be chaired by Geoffrey Gilmore, director of the Sundance Film Festival, and judged by Jehane Noujaim, Egyptian director of Control Room; and Hany Abu-Assad, Palestinian director of Paradise Now.
Muhr AsiaAfrica documentaries will be reviewed by Yano Kazuyuki, co-founder of Japanese distributor Cinematrix; African documentary film-maker Jean-Marie Teno; and jury chair Rakhshan Bani Etemad, the Iranian film-maker.
The short film jury is chaired by Egyptian film-maker Khairy Beshara; Lebanese actress Carmen Lebbos; and Germany’s Lars Henrik Gass, director of the International Oberhausen Short Film Festival.
Muhr AsiaAfrica shorts will be chaired by Japanese director Naomi Kawase and judged by German film-maker Dorothee Wenner and South African producer Jeremy Nathan.
For the first time, Diff has partnered with the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci), to launch a prize for the best feature film in the Muhr Awards for Excellence in Arab Cinema. This year’s recipient is Abdel Kechiche’s Couscous.