"The Middle East is hot right now," says Nadia Dresti, the director of the industry office at the Locarno international film festival. "This year's Open Doors is going to be particularly interesting."

Supported by the Swiss Foreign Ministry's Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC), Open Doors is described by festival director Frederic Maire as "Locarno's strongest industry element" and aims to match regional film-makers with international co-producers and industry partners.

"Locarno is known as a festival of discovery," says Maire, "and it's our goal to be aware of what's going on in regions of the world that are emerging cinematically. Open Doors can make these films exist."

The forum is accompanied by screenings of the featured directors' previous films and key pictures from the region.

This year, 13 projects from Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, in various stages of development, will be presented to around 60 potential international co-producers.

"Locarno received 121 submissions from Middle Eastern directors," says Open Doors project manager Vincenzo Bugno - double the number last year from South East Asia.

"There are a lot of creative directors in the Middle East and traditionally Locarno has a strong connection with the region," says Maire.

Bugno has selected a diverse range of projects in terms of geography, subject and style, from both young, first-time directors and established masters.

Since taking over in 2006, Maire has attempted to drum up publicity for the Open Doors programme and restricted the number of films. "In the first three years, there were too many projects. Last year and this year we've limited the selection," he says.

Last year also saw the launch of two grants to support the production of Open Doors projects, each worth $41,500 (sfr50,000), offered by the SDC and allocated jointly by the festival and the Swiss support fund Visions Sud Est. In addition, France's Centre National de le Cinematographie (CNC) doles out an award of $13,700 (EUR10,000) to support the development of a first feature film.

As for co-production deals, Dresti admits that last year's focus on South East Asia was complicated by access and language barriers, but Argentina was a particular success: all 11 projects ended up with co-production or finance deals, and most of the finished films went on to play major festivals.

Locarno's industry office works closely with producers' associations in Europe and the US to match films with potential co-producers, who are then invited to the festival. Dinners and networking events are followed by a workshop (the Open Doors Factory) and an intensive period of around 200 one-on-one meetings between film-makers and potential producers.

Dresti says that besides European buyers, including Bavaria Film International, The Match Factory and Onoma, she is expecting producers from the US (including HD Net), France (Tarantula and Unlimited), Argentina (Rizoma) and the UK (Peccadillo Pictures).


- Every year Open Doors also presents Windows, devoted to the Buenos Aires

Lab and the Cannes festival's Cinefondation.

- Alongside the co-production lab, the Open Doors screenings offer the Locarno audience an opportunity to see films by the film-makers invited, and a selection of representative films from the national cinemas of the near and Middle East.


Dir: Simon El Habre

Open Doors project manager Vincenzo Bugno describes Simon El Habre as an "important young talent". For his first feature, the Lebanese documentary film-maker has turned to a personal story - chronicling how his familial village in the mountains above Beirut has fared after being besieged by Christian and Druze militias during the 1975-90 civil war.

As a child, El Habre spent weekends and holidays at Ain El Halazoun. In the early 1980s the village, like many others around it, was evacuated and largely destroyed, and still remains a ghost town. Only one man, Simon's uncle Semaan El Habre, has returned to live there on a permanent basis.

The One-Man Village, El Habre says, "reflects on the nature of collective and individual memory. Through the story of Semaan El Habre it is also a story of healing and true reconciliation, in a country in which the inhabitants don't seem to have learned anything from their past, at a time when the country is vulnerable to a new civil war."

El Habre is currently self-financing the film's development, with the support of dynamic local film-makers' co-operative Beirut DC, and he aims to begin shooting the 86-minute film on HD in the next few months. He was selected by the Berlinale's Talent Campus in 2005 for his short film Chambre 220, and again with the script for The One-Man Village in 2006. This, his first major documentary project, follows short films, and television work for satellite channels such as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya and MBC.

The One-Man Village is a co-production with Irit Neidhardt's Mec Film. "Simon's film seems to be a small and simple story, but it's deep and layered," says Neidhardt. "I find it a very moving story that makes us reflect on the way governments try to implement peace and see why this usually fails. Yet it's also full of hope."


Director: Simon El Habre

Production status: In pre-production

Budget: $284,500

Production company: Beirut DC, Lebanon, tel: (961) 1 293212, e-mail: jad@beirutdc.org. Mec Film, Germany, tel: (49) 30 667 66700, e-mail: irit@mecfilm.de

I CAN'T GO HOME (Lebanon)

Dir: Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas

Writer-directors Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas are having a hectic summer. In May, they began editing their latest film, set in Beirut and southern Lebanon and starring Catherine Deneuve, before heading to the Cannes Atelier with the script for I Can't Go Home. This month, they were honoured with a mini-retrospective at the Paris Cinema film festival, before heading to Locarno's Open Doors.

Like their last feature A Perfect Day, which won the Fipresci prize at Locarno in 2005 and was sold by Celluloid Dreams, I Can't Go Home is a co-production between Georges Schoucair's Beirut-based Abbout Productions and producer Edouard Mauriat's Mille Et Une, and is typical of their lyrical, subtle style of film-making.

I Can't Go Home focuses on Souraya, a Beiruti film-maker who is six-months pregnant when she arrives in Paris for a meeting, just as war breaks out in Lebanon. Forced to stay with her Parisian sister Mina, she experiences the war from a distance, while her doctor husband, Walid, remains at the heart of the conflict.

Souraya films a diary to fill the gap that separates her from her husband. "She transforms - within her body, in her relationship to her future child, to Walid, her sister, her country and to images," write Joreige and Hadjithomas. The duo plans to shoot in a mix of HD video and 35mm.

The film is based on the directors' own experience of being in Paris last summer, while Israeli planes were bombing Beirut. "We were here, but 'not here', as all our friends and possessions were in another place," says Joreige. "Suddenly, you see the city without seeing it - we were living the war in Paris, experiencing it through the TV, SMS, blogs, messages from friends on the computer," continues Hadjithomas.

The directors say the script is a "work in progress" but they are keen to bring on board co-producers via Open Doors, aiming to finalise funding by the end of the year and shoot the film next May-June, mainly in Paris.


Directors: Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas

Production status: In development

Budget: $1.7m

Production company: Mille et Une Productions, France, tel: (33) 1 47 70 44 70, e-mail: milleetune@free.fr/Abbout Productions, Lebanon, (961) 3 676707, e-mail: gschoucais@yahoo.com


Dir: Nadine Khan

Nadine Khan's Chaos And Disorder is not your average Egyptian film. Comedies rule the local box office, together with internationally popular epics such as Marwan Hamed's The Yacoubian Building. But the short-film director's first feature - currently at the treatment stage - is a highly original, artistic take on life in Cairo, although the film merely hints at its location.

"The idea came to me three years ago when I was working as an assistant on a feature based in Syria and Lebanon," says Khan. "We were shooting in one of the biggest refugee camps in Lebanon and I saw so many similarities with the poorest areas in Cairo, and thought about how these communities are built and controlled in the Arab world."

Chaos And Disorder portrays a week in the life of an isolated community controlled by an anonymous higher power. "(The film) is related visually to contemporary Egyptian culture," says Khan, "yet unrelated, in that the community is isolated, surrounded by walls and disinterested in knowing or seeing what lies outside."

Starting at the end of the week, the film works back in time, day by day, unraveling the narrative as it goes. The action takes place on a football pitch, at a wedding and in the local supermarket, where quantities of rationed goods are announced over a central radio. Khan's characters, who mostly speak in endlessly inventive, lively Egyptian slang, include a nervous bride, Hala, a gang of unemployed youths all called Ahmed, and footballer Zaki, who has an eye for local sweetheart Manal.

Since 2001, Khan has been making short films and music videos, and collaborating with artist Hassan Khan on video installations for gallery exhibitions.

With producer Rina Khoury, she set up Wika Productions, which has a slate of features planned. Lebanese writer-director Mohamed Soueid is likely to write the Chaos And Disorder script with Khan; other goals include bringing on board co-producers and financiers via pitches at Open Doors.


Director: Nadine Khan

Production status: Treatment stage

Budget: $2.07m

Production company: Wika Production, Egypt, tel: (20) 12 22 562 88, e-mail: nadine1181@gmail.com

HALAL (Lebanon)

Dir: Assad Fouladkar

"I was raised in Lebanon, in a Shia Muslim and religiously devout family. Today, after all that's happened between the west and the Islamic world, I need to tell the stories I lived, knew or heard of from my childhood," Assad Fouladkar says of Halal.

The writer-director's film, a warm portrait of a working-class Shia neighbourhood, weaves together the lives of devoted men and women in a "panorama of sexual desires in an increasingly conservative society". Fouladkar says the film is based on personal experiences and those of friends and neighbours; he is planning to begin shooting in April 2008 in a Shiite quarter of Beirut.

The film's title refers principally to Loubna, a conservative woman, who is drawn into a temporary, or 'pleasure', marriage, something that is permitted, or 'halal', in Shia Islam. Other colourful characters include Lady Nizam, a beautician and the neighbourhood's informal sex consultant; five siblings who are looking for a wife for their widowed father; and two inseparable women, struggling to cope with their husband's fantasies.

"The project deals with the meaning of sexuality in the Shia religion in an ironic way," says Vincenzo Bugno, the Open Doors project manager. "And cinematically, if you take into account Assad's previous work, it could be something very interesting."

Fouladkar's first feature, When Maryam Spoke Out (2001), won several festival awards and was Lebanon's entry for the best foreign film Oscar that year.

Halal is co-produced by Zeina Zahreddine in Beirut, and Gaby Khoury, a partner in Youssef Chahine's Cairo-based Misr International. A quarter of the $1.7m budget is in place.


Director: Assad Fouladkar

Production status: In development

Budget: $1.7m

Production company: Misr International Films, Egypt, tel: (20) 2578 8038, e-mail: mif@starnet.com.eg


Dir: Hazim Bitar

Hazim Bitar is the director of the Amman Filmmakers Co-operative (AFC), an independent outfit that, since 1989, has produced more than 30 shorts, many of which have been screened at international festivals.

From Nowhere With Love is Bitar's first directorial feature and the AFC's debut as a production company. Bitar recognises the selection of the script by Open Doors "endows the film with a certain prestige and credibility in the industry - not least that Jordanian indie cinema will be taken seriously now, locally and beyond".

The $1.04m project, in development, is set in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain El Helweh in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

"The Palestinian refugee tragedy is a very emotional issue for me and others," says Bitar, whose mother is from Jerusalem and father is from Nablus. "It's become a symbol of an injustice that I consider to be far more devastating than the Israeli occupation."

The writer-director cites the international success of Paradise Now, Hany Abu Assad's drama about two suicide bombers, distributed by Warner Bros in the US and nominated for the Academy Award's best foreign film Oscar, as an indication that international audiences are "also interested in the dark side of the conflict, the Palestinian refugees and their ongoing saga".

Bitar is hoping to bring in co-producers and sources of finance at Locarno, enabling him to begin shooting in January 2008. "We've scouted locations in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, although the decision will be based on the visuals, the cost and the regulatory environment."

Set around an internet cafe run by Abu Nidal, a man with a shady military past, the film narrates the story of a brother and sister, and their struggles with both online and real-time love affairs, and the threat of religious extremism which appears to be rising in the camp.

"From Nowhere With Love is based loosely on real characters and real situations from the lives of people I have crossed paths with or others who have made headlines or news reports," says Bitar.


Director: Hazim Bitar

Production status: in development

Budget: $1.04m

Production company: Amman Filmmakers Co-operative (AFC), Jordan, tel: (962) 77 640 0434, e-mail: hazim.bitar@gmail.com


Dir: Mai Masri

Mai Masri is the best known of the five Palestinian directors included in this year's Open Doors.

Based in Lebanon, she has directed, shot and edited numerous documentaries, working with PBS, the BBC, Channel 4, France 2 and 3, SBS, RAI and Al Jazeera, among others.

Her 2001 film, Frontiers Of Dreams And Fears (2001), won 15 international awards. Masri's latest film, Beirut Diaries, was - unusually for a documentary - released theatrically in Beirut for five weeks earlier this year.

Eye Of The Phoenix is the veteran director's first feature-length fiction film, and is currently in development. Set in and around Beirut's racetrack and the nearby Palestinian refugee camp Sabra-Shatila, it is the story of the friendship between Layal, the 16-year-old daughter of a wealthy Lebanese entrepreneur, and Faris, a young Palestinian stable boy. The Phoenix of the title is Layal's fiery favourite horse.

"I first discovered the racetrack in Beirut while shooting a documentary in 1992," says Masri. "I feel it's a great metaphor for Lebanese society with all its diversity and contrasts. The racetrack is located on the front line of what used to be the dividing line between the two sides of Beirut."

The treatment takes in corruption between the powerful race bosses and jockeys, the massacres that took place in Sabra-Shatila during Lebanon's civil war, and an impending invasion of the country's south - plus a "spectacular chase scene" through the back streets of the camp.

Masri intends to shoot in the winter in Shatila, the subject of three of her previous films. Known for her documentary work with children, she is looking to cast non-professionals as the teenagers. While the script focuses on the human story, ongoing political events in Lebanon will form a backdrop to the drama.

With the film's production company, Cairo's Misr International, Masri aims to bring in financing for the $1.4m project from "individual business sources", who she says are expressing interest in the film, as well as European co-producers.


Director: Mai Masri

Production status: In development

Budget: $1.4m

Production company: Misr International Films, Egypt, tel: (20) 2578 5361, e-mail: mif@starnet.com.eg


Dir: Ra'anan Alexandrowicz

A critique of the Israeli military justice system, Ra'anan Alexandrowicz's Justice Must Be Seen promises to be the first documentary to "open the Pandora's box of the Israeli military courts and expose the mechanisms of this alternative legal system", according to the director and producer Liran Atzmor.

Currently in pre-production, the film is structured around 10-20 episodes based on cases that were tried in military courts between 1967 and 2007, explored through archival images and interviews. The subjects include prominent figures in Israel's legal arena, and those who have moved as far from the courts as possible.

Having gained the necessary permission, Alexandrowicz is now involved in an intense period of research. "There are 40 years of private and public archives to explore," explains Atzmor of Tel Aviv's Belfilms.

This is Jerusalem-born director Alexandrowicz's fourth feature; his previous films include James' Journey To Jerusalem (2003), about a pilgrim who is accidentally drawn into the migrant labour racket in Israel, which won the Golden Palm at the Valencia film festival, and his 2001 documentary The Inner Tour, which followed an organised Palestinian bus tour through Israel and Palestine just before the last Intifada broke out, and played at Sundance and the Berlinale.

With the maximum Israeli support on board already, and the recent input of $54,000 from the Berlinale's World Cinema Fund, Belfilms is now looking for international broadcasters to pre-buy the film. Annie Rooney's Californian company Roco Films is selling the film internationally.


Director: Ra'anan Alexandrowicz

Production status: In pre-production

Budget: $550,000

Production company: Belfilms, Israel, tel: (972) 3 6240780, e-mail: Belfilms@netvision.net.il

Int'l sales: Annie Rooney, RoCo Film International, tel: (1) 415 383 8872, e-mail: annie@rocofilms.com

Territories pre-sold: Israel (Belfilms)


Dir: Daoud Abd El Sayed

A co-production between Daoud Abd El Sayed's Cairo-based Diogenes Film and Irit Neidhardt's Berlin-based Mec Film, Messages From The Sea is the veteran Egyptian director's eighth film. Now in pre-production, the $2.3m project has some funding from the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, and Neidhardt is now looking to bring in European co-producers and financiers.

El Sayed is a rarity in Egyptian cinema, an auteur whose films are as popular at the box office as they are among national and international critics.

He is known as a pioneer of neo-realism (The Vagabonds), as well as for such classics as Al Kitkat (1991), Land Of Fear (2000) and the musical A Citizen, A Detective And A Thief (2001).

Messages From The Sea is a paean to Alexandria, Egypt's once-cosmopolitan, chic seaside city, seen through the eyes of Yehia, who returns to his childhood home - and his Italian childhood girlfriend Carla - after the death of his parents.

Typically for El Sayed, the script is populated with a diverse range of characters, whose lives are woven together through a multifaceted narrative. Yehia's old apartment block is now run by a canny, fundamentalist Muslim businessman, and his new friends include a security guard and a woman he mistakes for a prostitute.

"When I read Daoud's script, I started making friends with the characters immediately. I could see and smell the places," says Neidhardt.

"The film pays homage to an Alexandria that stood for Egypt's long and ancient history, its tolerance and pluralism," writes El Sayed. "It was a real Mediterranean city like no other in Egypt, characterised by a diverse population (Egyptians, Greek, Italians, Christian, Muslim, Jews) that is now in the process of being hijacked by a new, Islamic-oriented capitalism ignorant to the city's potentials and multi-layered, vivid past."

"Messages From The Sea is an interesting, complex story about social change," says Neidhardt. "It's a local story dealing with universal questions. What more could you want from a film'"


Director: Daoud Abd El Sayed

Production status: In pre-production

Budget: $2.3m

Production company: Mec Film, Germany, tel: (49) 30 66766700, e-mail: irit@mecfilm.de


Dir: Tawfik Abu-Wael

Tawfik Abu-Wael's first feature film, Thirst (Atash), won the Fipresci Award at Cannes' Critics' Week in 2004, and marked the young Palestinian director as a major emerging talent. Abu-Wael's new project, Tumbling (Tanathor), looks to be more ambitious than his evocative debut.

Set in 1960s Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the West Bank, the story centres around Salim, a doctor and amateur politician the Israeli Secret Service hopes to recruit, and Lubna, his withdrawn wife. During a dinner with some Israelis in Jerusalem, Lubna reveals a dark secret: that the couple was forced to abandon their young son during the 1948 war, when they were exiled from Haifa.

Lubna abandons her domestic life of 20 years to embark on an emotional journey to Haifa, causing the couple's complex relationship to unravel, amid Salim's split political loyalties.

The script manages to "embody and reflect a national tragedy in a very personal story, (going) deeper into the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict", says producer Amir Harel. "All this said, Tumbling is first and foremost a film about a couple and about the way people are changed, survive and fight with the demons of their haunted past. And its cinematic values are high, in terms of scenes and mises-en-scenes."

Abu-Wael says he is looking to cast Salim and Lubna from the Palestinian villages within Israel. "I'm looking for either actors or non-actors, people who can bring their own stories and lives into the film. I'm planning to spend four or five months with the actors, building their characters before shooting."

Tumbling is currently an Israeli-Italian co-production with Fabrizio Mosca's Acaba Films and Amir Harel's Lama Films financing the two-year research and script-writing process. Tel Aviv Foundation's Cinema Project is likely to contribute around $500,000 to the film, says Harel, and the producers are now looking for partners and funding to complete the $1.5m budget. Abu-Wael aims to shoot between March and May 2008 on location in Nazareth, Jerusalem and Haifa.


Director: Tawfik Abu-Wael

Production status: In pre-production

Budget: $1.5m

Production company: Lama Films, Israel, tel: (972) 368 50430, e-mail: lama@barak.net.il


Dir: Sameh Zoabi

Sameh Zoabi's Man Without A Cell Phone is the only comedy in this year's Open Doors line-up.

A sociopolitical coming-of-age story set in a Palestinian village in Israel, it should take up where Zoabi's last short film, Be Quiet, left off. That film, which won a prize in Cannes' Cinefondation selection in 2005, told the story of a young boy gradually becoming politically aware. Well shot, with a script full of wit and charm, it had extensive festival play. As a result, Zoabi's first feature - currently in pre-production - is highly anticipated.

Man Without A Cell Phone plays on the generational clash between educated young people growing up as Palestinians in Israel, and the seemingly traditional world of their parents.

"It is these youths who, discovering life beyond their village for the first time, become fully aware of the oppressive political reality and their status as second-class citizens," writes Zoabi.

Jawdat and his friend Muhammad work in construction, having failed to pass the Hebrew test for a place at Haifa University. Jawdat's passport to the outside world (and girls) is his prized mobile phone - even though his father is battling a phone company that is building a mast near his olive trees.

"It was a deliberate choice to focus on the characters and relationships - that's the core of my drama and not the politics," says Zoabi. "The script is very political only in that we care for the characters and their energy, love stories, dreams, aspirations, and ultimately their larger role in society."

Influenced by Fellini's I Vitelloni, Zoabi says his film's story and comedic style is "universal and easy to relate to, no matter where you live".

Man Without A Cell Phone is produced by Amir Harel's Lama Films, co-producers of Paradise Now among other Palestinian and Israeli features and documentaries. Harel is looking to bring in co-producers after Open Doors, with a view to shooting in mid-2008.


Director: Sameh Zoabi

Production status: In pre-production

Budget: $1.5m

Production company: Lama Films, Israel, tel: (972) 368 50430, e-mail: lama@barak.net.il

FIX ME (Palestine)

Dir: Raed Andoni

"As every day passes in Palestine, I'm more convinced about this idea and how important it is. I've started to think that a psychological journey into Palestine might be the only reasonable topic that we must think deeply about," says Raed Andoni. His documentary, Fix Me, is an intimate film that delves into the director's own psyche, to paint a picture of the mental health of Palestine itself.

Open Doors' manager Vincenzo Bugno agrees: "When it comes to Palestine, everyone knows about the tanks, the nature of war, and so on. But no-one has looked at the psychological effects on people living there. This is the first time a film is dealing with this kind of experience in such an intense way."

Andoni is producing the film through his Ramallah-based company, Dar Films, which has supported the project's research and development phase. His work as a producer with Palestinian directors such as Rashid Masharawi and Nizar Hassan is well known. As a director, this is Andoni's second feature-length project; his first, Improvisation, played the festival circuit, and received the 2006 Art and Culture Award in the International Mediterranean Documentary Competition run by Cmca (France) and RAI (Italy).

He hopes to piece together the $360,000 budget with support from European co-producers and funds, following a small grant from the Swiss fund Vision Sud Est. Shooting should begin in Palestine in October, in HDV.

Fix Me will follow the film-maker through his own therapy sessions at a mental health clinic in Ramallah, and recording the stories of the clinic's staff and other patients to assess the psychological state of Palestinian society.

Andoni is also aiming to draw out the relationship between psychology and cinema, something he believes will give the film a wider appeal, beyond its association with Middle Eastern politics. "Cinema can succeed in raising questions, questions raise awareness, and that can lead to new behaviour and new action," he says.

The producer-director is looking forward to participating in Open Doors: "Locarno is not only about money, it's also the best atmosphere to talk about and present new ideas, and listen to reactions to the project."


Director: Raed Andoni

Production status: In development

Budget: $360,000

Production company: Dar Films Productions, Palestine, tel: (972) 2 2953466, e-mail: palmyre@darfilms.ps


Dir: Meyar Al Roumi

Meyar Al Roumi's first feature Le Chemin Des Figuiers takes place on the road between Syria and Lebanon. The project won the best script award at the Montpellier Mediterranean Film Festival in 2006, and is described by Parisian producer Emmanuel Agneray as both "very touching and funny, providing an unusual way to get closer to everyday life in this part of the world".

A co-production between Agneray's Bizibi Films and Emade Sef Al Dine's Damascus-based Leen Productions, Le Chemin Des Figuiers has so far secured a small portion of its $2m budget. Agneray describes the process of financing independent films in Syria as "very difficult".

"It can be a real nightmare," says Al Roumi. "There are only three or four possibilities of financing a Syrian film in France. But we're determined to show that a strong, independent Syrian film scene does exist."

Nevertheless, Agneray is in discussion with a private investor interested in the project, and maintains that the quality of Al Roumi's previous shorts and documentaries, and the strength of the script, could appeal to potential co-producers at Locarno. Agneray's Bizibi Films produced Al Roumi's documentary on Syrian art, L'Attente Du Jour, which played several Arab and international festivals in 2003. Bizibi's other feature projects include Keren Yedaya's Or, which won the Camera d'Or at Cannes in 2004.

The story centres on taxi driver Abo Maher, who lives in Damascus with his wife and children, and ferries passengers between the Syrian and Lebanese capitals. On one trip he meets Diana, a Lebanese nurse, and falls in love. "His character is like a metaphor of what the film intends to portray - confrontation, heartbreak, split personality," says Al Roumi.

"I thought of the idea on one particular trip between Damascus and Beirut in the summer of 2003, but the script is the result of many journeys between the two cities over the last 10 years," says Al Roumi. "The film doesn't talk about politics directly, but it does look at the impact of recent events on the people who live in the region."

Al Roumi evocatively describes Abo Maher's taxi as "the perfect setting for a love story. (It's a) mobile location, rather like a self-contained Middle Eastern village, a microcosm of warmth and intimacy where different religious communities mix." He intends to shoot the film on the route between the two countries in spring 2008, even if, depending on the political situation, he has to film the border scenes elsewhere.


Director: Meyar Al Roumi

Production status: In development

Budget: $1.2m

Production company: Bizibi Productions, France, tel: (33) 1 43 47 15 06, e-mail: bizibi@free.fr


(He! N'oublie Pas Le Cumin) (Syria)

Dir: Hala Alabdalla

Syrian documentary film-maker Hala Alabdalla's treatment for her feature documentary Hey, Don't Forget the Cumin! reads more like a poem than a traditional plan of action.

But this will come as no surprise to those who saw her first feature, I Am The One Who Brings Flowers To Her Grave, co-directed by Ammar Al Beik, which won the documentary prize at the Venice film festival and the Bronze Muhr at the Dubai international film festival in 2006. Partly styled as an explorative travel diary this intimate, reflective film explored Syrian identity through interviews with the directors' friends in Syria and in exile.

Parisian producer Serge Lalou describes Alabdalla as having "an original and stunning political and aesthetic filmic relationship to the world." Alabdalla's new film is a co-production between Damascus-based Ramadfilm, which she runs with Syrian auteur Omar Amiralay and Lalou's Les Films d'Ici.

"This project is so rare, unusual, political, poetic, personal, universal, fundamental, that it was obvious we had to be in on it," says Lalou. "It has no obvious subject but a real point of view on our world."

Alabdalla's starting point for Hey! Don't Forget The Cumin is a short story, Narcissique, written by her friend Jamil Hatmal, a writer and former political prisoner who died in exile in France in 1994. From here, the film takes in the late British playwright Sarah Kane, and a new play written by and starring Lebanese actress Darina Al Joundi. "The link between the three characters is pain," says Alabdalla. "They are free spirits and artists, suffering in society."

Alabdalla produced films through Maram CTV and Ramadfilm in Lebanon, Syria and France, working with Syrian and French directors for years before directing her own documentaries.

Lalou and Alabdalla have secured around a third of the $550,000 budget, and are looking to begin shooting in Syria and France this summer.

Lalou admits this kind of highly personal, complex documentary is difficult to promote, but that he will "try to pre-sell, sell and distribute in Europe, in every niche where cinema continues to have a life".


Director: Hala Alabdalla

Production status: In pre-production

Budget: $550,000

Production company: RamadFilm, Syria, tel: (33) 6 85 21 22 37/Les Films d'Ici, Paris, (33) 1 44 52 23 23, e-mail: serge.lalou@lesfilmsdici.fr.