Students from the Department of Media and Communications, Manipal University, Dubai, in an exclusive partnership with BroadcastPro ME, bring you the highlights from some of the key panel discussions at DIFF 2011. The eighth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), which was held from December 7-14, 2011, saw 171 films from 56 […]
Students from the Department of Media and Communications, Manipal University, Dubai, in an exclusive partnership with BroadcastPro ME, bring you the highlights from some of the key panel discussions at DIFF 2011.
The eighth edition of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), which was held from December 7-14, 2011, saw 171 films from 56 countries screened to the public. DIFFs biggest coup this year was a partnership with Paramount Pictures that saw the world premiere of Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol on the opening night of the festival.
Perhaps what makes DIFF important to the local industry is the fact that it serves as a platform to showcase Arab cinema and to host key players who can share their knowledge and expertise on various aspects of the film industry, whether it is script writing, acting, financing or distributing. Here, we bring you the highlights from the panel discussions that were held at DIFF.
How to: Story Development
The first how-to session on developing a story attempted to show aspiring filmmakers and scriptwriters how to play around with drama and create tension that compels people to watch films till the end without changing its essence.
Filmmaking is an art of storytelling; everyone forgets to spend time on the foundation which is the screenplay, commented American producer Paul Miller.
Panelists in this session included Egyptian producer Mohamad Hefzi; Director of Torino Film Lab, Savina Neirotti; and Amy Hobby and Paul Miller who shared their life experiences as producers.
Producer Hefzi stated that the hardest part in the equation was the relationship between the director, producer and the writer. Panelists agreed that if the story is scripted well, it was half the battle won. They encouraged the need for training to create an engaging script that keeps the balance between creativity and technology.
Industry Panel: Books as Building Blocks
Andre Gasper from Lebanese Publishing House Dar el Sakki; Ahmad el Zayady, Dar el Shourouk (Egypt); Samir Nasr, Director (Egypt); and Daniel Ziskind from Zad Communications and Production (Egypt) highlighted the importance of books, scripts and cinematography in the Arab world. They discussed the barriers Arab filmmakers experience while making a film based on any book. Film festivals in Europe receive more than 500 scripts out of which only three or four are based on books. 20% of the cinema in Egypt used to be based on books although in the last four years, that number has dwindled substantially.
Director Nasr finds that there is a perpetual love-hate relationship between books and films that will last for many years to come. Sometimes there are novels or topic which you cant choose; instead, they choose you, he commented.
According to André Gasper, Egyptian cinema was not afraid to adapt to the golden age which mostly included silent films as they were films based on novels and developed with the help of the countrys Ministry of Culture.
By Mary Joy
Medias Obsession with Blockbusters
This session spoke about how small budget films were competing for eyeballs with big-budget blockbusters. The panel comprising Ammar Abed Rabbo (France), Chris Paton (UK), Abdel Sattar Naji (Kuwait), Liz Shackleton (India) and Steven Zeitchik (USA) focused on how the media covers and promotes big films and pays minimal attention to smaller films in the industry even though the latter is in the majority.
Small and independent films have difficulty in getting attention in a healthy market, said panel moderator and CNBC business contributing editor Colin Brown. According to the panel members, film festivals provide the best exposure to smaller films, documentaries that deal with tragic subjects and films that have a social message to deliver.
Small films can be made big with the aid of mainstream media as they play a crucial role in persuading distributors, informing and making mass audiences aware of low budget films so it can generate visibility in the market. Small films usually showcase new faces and new directors. To make these small films big, producers and distributors resort to various techniques such as using star power where a prominent star from blockbuster movies has a cameo to help raise the status of smaller films.
By Fathima Layeek
How to: Film Finance
How to – Film Finance moderated by Colin Stanfield, a consultant at the Dubai Film Market brought together a distinguished panel of producers including Nibal Arakji from Lebanon, Thanassis Karathanos from Germany and Ryan Harrington, who represents the Tribeca Film Institute.
The session shed light on funding commercials as well as documentary films. Ryan Harrington, who represents an institute that backs funding, commented that the key criteria are the story, its originality, access and the passion of the filmmaker. A combination of German and Lebanese filmmakers gave the discussion a distinct edge. Nibal Arakji spoke about her movie 39
Seconds that is currently in post production and mentioned that she received a US $40,000 grant for her movie from Enjaz, DIFFs post production fund.
Commenting on the scenario in the context of Germany and the West as a whole, Thanassis Karathanos stated that the market is rigid and difficult to penetrate. The most one can do, according to him, is understand the internal dynamics of funding in films.
This panel discussion titled Where Do We Go Now? saw directors Omar Chargauwi, Mourad Ben Cheikh, Taghreed Elsanhouri and Mohammad Khan from Palestine, Tunisia, Sudan and Egypt respectively come together. Moderator Alaa Karkouti from MAD Solutions (Egypt) discussed the controversial issue of censorship in the Middle East.
Omar Chargauwi, who is based in Denmark, touched upon his Arab roots and said that Arab movies mostly attract local audiences. He denounced the fact that most international films that did have Middle East segments almost always stereotyped Arabs.
Director Mohammad Khan said cinema has seen significant change since the Arab Spring. Elsanhouri added: We have to come to terms with the revolution as every artist requires his/her space and wants to be heard. At this moment, its all about letting the political steam pass and resolving the crisis.
However, Mourad Ben Cheikh, which represented the Tunisian film industry, said there was no censorship board in Tunisia at the moment and if it was to be set up in the future, the approach would be more holistic.
By Heena Makhijani
How to: Sell Films
Panelists including Ted Baracos, Reed MIDEM (France); Frederic Corvez, Urban Distribution International (France); Kevin Iwashina, Preferred Content; and Mynette Louie, Producer (USA) discussed the importance of having the right sales agents to sell films. They also spoke about the latest market trends and how a new breed of filmmakers are more business savvy as they hold onto the rights of their own films.
This technique enables them to learn and create opportunities as well as take their films to a variety of platforms so that they can gain popularity and sales in this digital age.
How To: Short Film Strategies
Abdallah Al Kaabi, Director (UAE); Sebastien Hussenot, Producer (France); and Sydney Neter, SND Films (Netherlands) discussed the best short film strategies based on their own experiences with panel moderator and Dubai Film Market Consultant Colin Stanfield.
Al Kaabi spoke about his inspiration for his first short film The Philosopher and how he worked on it while interning for a production house in Paris. He noted that the script has the highest potential and supporting such initiatives can create greater recognition for the filmmaker.
The panelists looked at some of the main issues in filmmaking, including the need for a good script, finding a good director, and also finding the right financer for the film. They also shared their views on what works and what doesnt in short films and emphasised that the first 30 seconds of the film are the most crucial and needs to be attention grabbing.
By Christine Marie Cherian
Panel Discussion: TV Saves the Day
The five main pillars of the media are monetising, funding, talent, digital platforms and regulation, it was stated.
Panel members from local networks including Emmanuel Durou of Deloitte, Ibaa Halal of OSN, Ahmad Shockry of du and German writer and director Meinholf Zurhost of ZDF/ARTE discussed the positive benefits that a broadcasters support can have on local filmmaking communities in terms of increased demand for Arabic shows and insight on how local networks are redefining their inner programming and craft. Highlighting the stimulating production of local content in the Arab World, the panel focused on a special report compiled by Durou with the support of TECOM.
Deloittes Durou commented that piracy is a key area that needs government regulation in this region as it continues to have a heavy toll on the regions media industry.
Director Zurhorst also shared similar views on the subject deeming that piracy can be eradicated through television as a medium.
Variety Arabia Panel: Five Emirati filmmakers to Watch
Mohammad Hassan, scriptwriter (UAE); Noujoum al Ghanem, award-winning Emirati director and leading documentary maker; Khalid al Mahmood, director (UAE) and Saoud al Kaabi, actor (UAE) from City of Life spoke about the requirements needed to better Emirati cinema and appreciated the efforts made by DIFF to promote Emirati cinema in the region and worldwide.
Saoud al Kaabi stated that film festivals serve as a link between Emirati cinema and the rest of the world.
Mohammad Hassan pointed out: The biggest issue in the local Arab market is that there are about 99% directors and around 1% scriptwriters.
Noujoum al Ghanem seconded that.
We dont have production companies in the film industry but only soap operas on TV, she stated.
Another thing that sets UAE cinema apart from the rest is realism, according to al Kaabi. When you see Dubai in our movies, you dont just see it; you feel it, thats the realism we portray, he claimed.
Khalid al Mahmood said there was greater need for constructive criticism.
In the Gulf countries, we need critics. We lack the skill to critique a work and thats the reality. If I have any shortcomings in my movies, I need to know. That helps us understand the audiences as well.
By Samiha S Naaz
How to: Distribution
The distribution landscape has changed dramatically in recent times. Industry experts Eve Gabereau, Soda Pictures (UK); Paolo Spina, Revolver SRL (Italy); Mario Haddad, Empire Cinema (Lebanon); Liva Alexander; Karim Safieddine and Sam Eigen highlighted how this impacts a film without star power and how decisions are made to buy films.
You cannot predict whether movies will be successful or not but I do know that distribution has changed dramatically in the past five or six years, commented Paolo Spina.
He added that movies that are not selected for any festivals tend to gradually cease to exist. He added that paradoxically, making feature movies has become even more difficult and has been devalued as they are repetitious. The topic of online distribution was covered by Karim Safieddine who spoke about the online models that can help filmmakers gain greater visibility. He urged people to gear up for online marketing and not be daunted by the web.
Sam Eigen remarked that an experienced distributor will have skills to negotiate good ideas.
The panel discussed the realities of the world of distribution and how it works for both big and small-budget films.
By Nazia Fatma
Master Class with Mohamad Malas: Visual Poetry
Acclaimed Syrian writer/director Mohamad Malas took a Master Class on visual poetry as his narrative and fiction films Dreams of the City (1984) and The Night (1992) depict this element.
With moderator Richard Peria, this master class talked about how Malas has explored certain themes such as a missing place, the lost era, and the search for the self, through the eyes of the women in his films.
Visual poetry in my films focuses mainly on women; they are the core of my subject. Through my films, I try to submit my thoughts and feelings, as I do not believe in theories, said Malas.
He also added that films are the tools that help convey the present situation of any place. Speaking about why he focuses on women, Malas added: Women help represent the image of men immediately, whether in a positive or a negative way, he said, adding that a film for him is not just a mere act, it is a kind of existence and an everlasting relationship between the light, the camera and the actors.
By Maria Hussain
Greatest filmmaker of German cinema: Werner Herzog
German film director, actor, screenwriter, producer and opera director Werner Herzog was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award at DIFF 2011.
Presenting his new film Into the Abyss to the attendees , filmmaker Herzog discussed many aspects of his career and told the audience that his filmmaking career wasnt merely a means of living but a passionate and a true part of him.
It is easy to just make a film. Dont wait for the industry to finance you, work where there is real life … As long as you have a clear vision and have fire within, you will be able to succeed starting today. Herzog also urged the young filmmakers at DIFF to contain the amount of footage they filmed. He strongly urged them to takes on the roles of the director and the storyteller and not follow after other peoples expectations.
By Fatema Khokha
Compiled by Rabab Kazi