Friday, December 17, 2004

Dubai Film Festival

No I'm not blogging from Dubai this weekend, but this report in the New York Times about the Dubai Film Festival caught my eye.. and here it is. Once you finish reading it, close your eyes and imagine something like this happening here...

In Dubai, a Festival Is Born. Next, an Industry?
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

Tinseltown it's not. But Dubai, a swiftly rising city of cranes and skyscrapers on the Persian Gulf, has highly ambitious plans for the silver screen. And frustrated Arab filmmakers are hoping that this is their moment, too.

The weeklong $10 million Dubai International Film Festival, which ended on Saturday, was billed as a showcase of Arab and international films. Coinciding with the comparatively lower-budget Marrakesh and Cairo film festivals, the Dubai version, with 13,000 people attending, was even talked up as a spur to starting a film industry here.

About 75 films were shown, together meant to appeal to Dubai's diverse community of Asians, Arabs and Westerners. But more than anything, the festival was all Dubai: a mix of Disneyland and Las Vegas. Like most things in this desert emirate, the 50-yard-long red carpet leading into the main festival hall was brand new. Even the location, a resort complex built to resemble an old-fashioned mud-brick city, seemed appropriate - more movie lot than luxury hotel. The program - indie, Hollywood and Bollywood films - was meant to please. And big American movies, like "The Grudge," "Polar Express" and "Ocean's Twelve," proved the biggest draws.
About the only unhappy people were Arab filmmakers, who fancied themselves as the stars of the program. For much of the week, nearly 50 of them wrestled with their fundamental problem: lack of support. In screenings, talks and frequent informal sessions, Arab auteurs flown in by the festival made no secret of their frustration with their moneyed hosts and with the perceived apathy of potential Arab backers.

"I'm sick of co-productions and going for money from Europe and the U.S.," said Annemarie Jacir, a Palestinian-American whose short film, "Like Twenty Impossibles," about Palestinians navigating Israeli checkpoints, played to packed audiences. Despite all the talk of building bridges with the West, Ms. Jacir noted, it would be better to build them closer to home. "What there really needs to be is a bridge between the gulf and Arab filmmakers," she said, speaking about the wealthy Persian Gulf region.

Abdul Hamid Juma, chief executive of Dubai Media City, a government-sponsored media free-trade zone that sponsored the festival, said he hoped to have an answer for the directors soon. Media City - similar to an office park but for publishing, broadcasting and entertainment companies - intends to create a Dubai Film Commission to support producers, a Dubai Location Management Commission to encourage film production, and an infrastructure and a Dubai Film Fund to finance movie projects.

"Only Dubai can do this at such a critical time," Mr. Juma said. Blame the dearth of financial support on politics, said Mohamed Maklouf, who organized the festival's Arab shorts program. With authoritarian governments running much of the Arab world, few are likely to back independent cinema, Mr. Maklouf said, because, "Our leaders are terrified of the moving image."

But many other problems dog Arab filmmakers, including distribution of their product in the region. Movie distribution is often handled by the equivalent of cartels in Arab countries, and unless filmmakers are connected to them, they can be denied distribution and thus a take at the box office. The subject matter of many independent films does not sell either. Many Arab films, says Taher Houchi, a Moroccan-Berber filmmaker, live on the festival circuit but cannot make it on their own.

The largest producer of Arabic-language films is Egypt, which releases between 30 and 40 feature films a year, said an Arab film critic, Essam Zakarea. Known mainly for their adherence to formula and to slapstick, Egyptian films are made by a handful of small and midsize producers, and have budgets of well under $1 million each. They do, however, make it onto DVD and video CD (an inexpensive format on CD-ROM used throughout Asia and the Middle East) from Djibouti to Iraq.

Filmmakers in countries with nascent film industries like Tunisia and Morocco can receive money from their governments, but they are comparatively small sums. Tunisia has a fund of about $500,000, which it uses to help finance three or four films a year, said Nawfel Saheb-Ettaba, a Tunisian film director who produced a feature-length movie with almost two-thirds of the money coming from the government.

The vast majority of Arabic-language films, especially those that reach the West, are made with European or private money. And that, many filmmakers say, has its own price. "The reason this film exists is because of French cinema," said Kamel Cherif, a Tunisian-born filmmaker, about his short coming-of-age movie "Sign of Belonging." The film, which examines both East and West through the eyes of a Tunisian boy who faces circumcision, was made largely with French government money. The 30-minute movie cost $200,000 and won the award for best short film at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this year. But, Mr. Cherif said, he paid a price for that support. A co-producer was added to work with him, and he had to do most of the post-production work in France at a significantly higher cost, which ate into his budget.

"It becomes a real problem because the Europeans are beginning to put controls" on films in exchange for financial support, Mr. Cherif said, adding, "I would hope that one day a film like this would be funded by an Arab." An Arab would have understood the subject matter better, Mr. Cherif said, and helped him to produce a more authentic product.

Can Dubai come to the rescue? Mr. Juma said it could, with a bit of time. "I don't want people to come here and shoot the desert or terrorist movies," Mr. Juma said. "I want to create an industry."


  1. I read the paper copy of this article. There were two pic's published with it, one of Lebleba and I don't know who else from Egypt. The other pic was amazing: young Emirati women with hejabs and abayahs but at the same time seemed to be working for the organizers of this festival. Allah ur7am ayamek ya 7'aled el9edeeg, you left us for "shabab 7ool o shabab fel mall"

  2. i cant believe they complain that they recieve money and then expect to be able to do whatever they please. ingrateful that is what they are. also, i knowing them, if the govt. gave them any amount of funds, the filmakers, if given the chance, would make something that citisizes their govt. no wonder they dont get any funds...
    plus, if their films are anything like the commercials on tv, i would pay not to see them!! art my ass!
    i have nightmares fromt hat stupid potato commercial: batatis fritz! akhhhh and then the sa3edi...turns my stomach every time i think about it...

  3. I love film festivals. Here in Vancouver we have the international film festival that shows hundreds of movies every year. The best movie I saw at the festival this year was "The Gate to the Sun" and egyptian movie that tells the whole history of Palestine through the love story of a man and his wife. The movie was so well made and so brilliant it made me feel proud. Did anyone else see that movie?

  4. nychick... I saw the pictures on the website and meant to add them but got sidetracked. I'll do it now.

    As for Khaled Al-Sedeeq... the man is still dining out on بس يا بحر as if it was Kuwait's Citizen Kane. What the hell has he been up to since عرس الزين?!

  5. I should mention here that I LOVE the TV commercial for the Dubai Film Festival, where a bunch of kids string up a makeshift screen out of bedsheets and set it up on the beach to watch a movie. Brilliant!

  6. Ihath,
    I haven't seen it, but I've heard of it.
    It's like there's a policy against showing good Arabic films.. all we ever get around here is "Allimbi" and its likes.

    And how come KNCC never buys Tunisian, Lebanese, or Moroccan films?

    (People, I've just started my own blog out of boredom and got the warmest welcome ever. I guess i deserve it for not taking the blogging business seriously)

  7. mishu... I resent what you said.
    Not all movies would be based on the government. Even if they were to be anti-government...its a free county. Look at people like Walid Al Awadhi... he should receive funding from the Kuwaiti government.

    Most of u have been dazzled by nadine labaki's video clips... whether nancy ajrams, or yuri mrakadi or whoever... imagine if she had the chance to direct a film! If her goverment would fund her!

    West Beirut won awards.... do you think the Lebanese government funded it? I'm suprised they showed it at Lebanese theatres.

    Also, not ALL tv commercials are crap! Yes, a majority in Kuwait are but there is hope... Also... keep in mind the TV ads represent the audience as well... In kuwait, ads are so different than lebanese ads coz the kuwaiti audience is not as mature as an audience... meaning, lebanon has an older history in advertising, whereas its still fresh in kuwait. this is a complicated topic that needs pages to type on...

    anyways, what i am trying to say, arab nations should be able to open some doors for our fellow artists... it is not politics that will help us within the western world, but art. Film festivals such as the one held in Dubai should be encouraged and the media should be supportive. Fashion shows like the one held in Beirut should also be encouraged.... Music awards should also be held.....maybe even awards for tv series.... something like the Emmy.. all this would cause a stir in the art world...when competition arouses and better funding, be sure to find better long as it does not get too commercial of course.

  8. Rampurple: i know Waleed Al-Awadhi personally, along with a few of his cousins that work in PR in Marketing. his movies are good because he is smart enough not to place a focus on the govt. and deal with issues that pertain to the average citizen.

    and, yes the truth hurts!!

  9. also, the movies about palestine, spare me the heartbreak!!! you dont see hindi films about clashes with Pakistan, or Muslim/Christian persecution in the Phillipines, i mean even the Jewish community has moved on from the Holocaust.. please spare me the friggin drama!!! turns my friggin stomach...

  10. shit since im on a roll...
    what is the point of the majority of movies??

    ENTERTAINMENT. as a viewer i dont want to go to a movie to be reminded about the crashing economy, the dying children in africa or the fact that my wife is fucking my best friend.. no, i want to go to a movie to get away from all that. if i wanted to be reminded i would simply turn on the news or pick up a respectable newspaper.

    yes, Ram, you are right about the need for fashion shows, concerts, blah blah blah, but if you introduce those elements too quickly, you will end up with a society that is divided even more in between the have and have nots, and the religious and open minded, and that kind of polarization in Kuwait cant lead to anything good.
    im all up for Applebees, Fridays, fuds etc having a real Happy Hour where i can go with my little bro and get a stiff drink while i hit on some skank, or a nightclub that would rival those here in Miami, or get shitfaced like i do on a daily basis in Venezuela and dance the night away. but the number of partiers would be rivaled by an equal or greater number of taliban-endorsing-wife-beating-goat-screwing beirdoos weirdoos with their ugly ankles, flee infested beards, and disgusting hangnails along with their busloads of enslaved ninjas..

  11. When it comes to the up coming film makers they only concentrate on political movies I say move on and lets make entertaining movies.

  12. Dear Zaydoun,
    In fact, the marketing blitz in the local media forced me to drive to Dubai, it is beyond believe for Dubai, so glamorous. Again where is our beloved Kuwait, the first film ever produced in the Arab Gulf is Bas Ya Bahar, 40 years a go, unbelievable. No body in Dubai I talked to, seem to know about it. I bet that Abdul Hamid Juma never heard about it. Anyway a good opportunity to watch some films you will never see in the movie houses. By the way if you want to blog from Dubai (since am sure you will not from AL Ain, as much as I will not from A l Jahra!!) Let me know may be we can meet in the lands of sands of ours!!

    احمد بن كريشان

  13. Zaydoun
    This is late but what can I do, didn't have time before.
    Khaled al9edeeg did what he could back then. The man was a pioneer in his field and no one and I REPEAT no one has reached his professional level in Kuwait "yet." The sad attempts to make feature films and documentaries in Kuwait are a "Joke." From the TV films of Hyatt in the 1990s to W.A. nightmares sorry "dermas without sleep" and "the shabab cool fel mall epic" they were all a big disappointment. Al9edeeg is an artist and u never know, maybe he had a very bad experience that forced him to quit and isolate himself like he is doing now. Just think about this: he made "bas ya ba7ar" more than 40 yrs ago, with so little resources and limited funds and he made the best of it.

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