The head of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s Sanad fund talks about how the new initiative is supporting Arab filmmakers from across the region.

Launched earlier this year, Sanad is a development and post-production fund which aims to strengthen filmmaking and build stronger networks within the Arabic-speaking region.

The fund offers development grants of up to $20,000 per project and post-production grants of up to $60,000. Projects to win post-production support in the first round of funding this include Faouzi Bensaidi’s Death For Sale, Leila Kilani’s On The Plank and Oday Rasheed’s Qarantina, which had its premiere at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last week.

Development projects include Train Station from Iraqi filmmaker Mohamed Al-Daradji, whose Son Of Babylon was selected as Iraq’s entry for the foreign-language Oscar this year.

Algeria-born Macia, who was appointed head of the fund in May, has worked as a producer, programmer and festival director. She previously headed Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and since 2006 has served as artistic director of the Crossroads forum at Greece’s Thessaloniki film festival.

As it was the first year of Sanad, was it difficult finding enough good projects?

We thought it would be difficult but it wasn’t in the end. We launched the programme in Cannes and ended up with about 150 submissions – 50 for post and 100 for development. There were so many good projects that we decided to go a little further than we originally intended and gave ten grants for post-production and 17 for development. Next year we’ll have two funding rounds in February and six months later

Where did the submissions mostly come from?

We had a lot from the Maghreb because we opened the application so that you can submit in English, French or Arabic. Also a lot from Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Palestine and a few from the Emirates, Jordan, Iraq and Kuwait. When it came to the selection, we tried to find a balance between new and established filmmakers and also between men and women.

What kind of themes or subject matter did you see in the submissions?

There were a lot of projects examining identity – what it means to be an Arab. This was mostly for filmmakers who live between two cultures like a Moroccan or Algerian living in France. On the documentary side there were lots of projects dealing with environmental problems and disaster within their own countries.

What are the major challenges facing filmmakers from this region?

Funding of course as outside of Morocco and Tunisia there is no government fund in this region. I found this myself working as producer with filmmakers in the region [Macia produced Kamal Aljafari’s documentary Port Of Memory which was in competition in Abu Dhabi last year]. When you want to finance a Palestinian film, you have to finance with France or Europe.

The other problem is with the screenplay as they often go into production with a bad screenplay, so of course the consequences are there. This is why we decided to work with the filmmakers during the festival and give them more than money. We ran Sanad lab during the festival this year and had three mentors to whom they could present their projects. The idea is to give them some artistic direction – to start with the screenplay and follow up with advice. We also had some distributors and sales agents looking at the projects.

Will Sanad develop into a fully-fledged projects market, like Cinemart, or remain as a fund?

We want to do both. The filmmakers need tuition and they were very happy with the feedback from the mentors. But the market element is also necessary. We’d also like to support production, not just development and post-production, so we’ve applied for some funding and will see if we can go forward with that. 

There’s a lot of support now for Emirati filmmakers, but the local population is quite small. How do you see the Emirati film industry developing?

This is not a perfect comparison but it’s like the situation in Bosnia. There was nothing, but now following the war you have the Sarajevo film festival and filmmakers like Danis Tanovic come out of that. Of course that was a situation where you had a war, which is not the case here. But you can imagine that having a festival here, having Sanad, the Emirates Competition and other initiatives, I’m sure something will grow from all of that.