The inaugural Middle East International Film Festival's Film Financing Circle (FFC) came to an end Wednesday night with an awards ceremony for the finalists of its pitching programme, the InCircle Pearl.
Audience favourite Soman Chainani's Love Marriage, a comedy about two weddings that threaten to tear apart an Indian family in London, and Sofie Damian &Rusudan Chkonia's Keep Smiling, the story of seven mothers battling it out in a beauty contest in Georgia, shared the first prize of $100,000. Chkonia's $800,000 project is due to shoot in Tbilisi in the spring.
A surprise runner-up award of $25,000, donated by FFC delegate Ryan Kavanaugh of financing and production company Relativity Media, went to Kayvan Mashayekh's Batting for Palestine, a drama about a Palestinian boy recruited by a struggling Jewish minor league baseball manager in Texas.
'The projects were all strong, and it seemed unfair that only one would win,' Kavanaugh told ScreenDaily.com. Mashayekh has brought on board a Texan baseball team owner as executive producer, and has support from Jordan's Royal Film Commission, where the young Iranian-American filmmaker will shoot scenes based in Palestine.
FFC director Adrienne Briggs had received more than 100 submissions from filmmakers in 27 countries in the lead-up to the festival. Over the three days of the FFC, teams of international executives coached six shortlisted filmmakers through their pitches, who then presented to the jury members -- former BBC Films head David Thompson, Hyde Park Entertainment chairman and CEO Ashok Amritraj, and Nansun Shi of Hong Kong's Film Workshop -- and the FFC's gathering of mainly Hollywood executives.
Paul Haggis, at the festival to present Friday's closing film In the Valley of Elah, is today addressing a masterclass for young local filmmakers, and has agreed to act as a consultant for an international screenwriting lab that the festival plans to hold next year.
MEIFF festival organisers drew in an impressive line-up of speakers and delegates to the inaugural event. 'We've all appreciated the opportunity to meet colleagues in a relaxed, non-competitive atmosphere, and the panel discussions have been generous and open,' said Ingenious World Cinema's Parminder Vir.
David Thompson expressed enthusiasm for the 'anything's possible' atmosphere in the Emirates. 'I'm here partly given my interest in Arab cinema and the region, and to share the BBC's experiences in an informal way. But we're also interested in co-productions -- in the current climate, new sources of investment are crucial.'
But Thompson, Vir and other delegates expressed frustration at the lack of opportunity to meet locals -- both potential investors and aspiring filmmakers -- and regional industry executives. Only one of the pitching filmmakers was from the Middle East, and few UAE-based directors attended the panel discussions. Bar Frontrow Entertainment's Gianluca Chacra, the region's distributors, mostly based in Dubai, also failed to make the 90-minute trip to the UAE federal capital.
'It's been worthwhile but a bit of an LA talkshop at times,' said one visiting executive. 'If Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the other emirates can coordinate events and also production issues such as permissions and so on, then that would make it easier for us to do business here.'
'Both sides are getting to know eachother, and the foundations are now there,' said Kavanaugh. 'We can't ignore the international marketplace and events like this open up interaction, but it's very early days.'