ABU DHABI // In a surprise turn of events, two winners were chosen to split the Shasha Grant during a ceremony at Emirates Palace last night.
The winners of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission's annual international screenwriting competition, who will share the US$100,000 (Dh367,000) prize, were Kasem Kharsa for Shelter (Egypt/US), a story about an amnesiac Iraqi refugee in Beirut, and Dima Hamdan for The Kidnap (Jordan/UK), about a Jordanian police chief's mission to find his kidnapped and pregnant wife.
The judges settled on two screenwriters because their projects both embodied the artistic and cultural merit they were searching for, said Sheikha al Zain al Sabah, chairperson of Eagle Vision Media Group, and one of the judges.
It is the first time in the competition's four years that the prize has been shared, said David Shepheard, director of the film commission. He joked that the first thing he planned to do today was order another trophy so both winners would have one.
The Shasha Grant competition, which was open to Arabic entries for the first time this year, aims to open industry doors for writers.
The prize is an important platform to help nurture young talents and to promote Arab culture through film and television in the region, according to Eissa Saif al Mazrouei, director of special projects at Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.
"Shasha Grant is a platform for aspiring filmmakers and screenwriters in the Middle East to see the potential for Arab stories to reach a global audience," said Mr Shepheard. "It is an ongoing grassroots success story that inspires and motivates emerging scriptwriters, with three of the four last Shasha Grant winners heading into production."
The grant's six finalists travelled to the capital to pitch their work to a panel of expert judges yesterday, the last day of the Circle Conference, which brought together film, television and digital media professionals to discuss the future of the industry.
Almost 150 feature length scripts were submitted from around the world, a quarter of which were from UAE-based writers.
The winner of the year's development award also ensures the film commission's support for further financing.
"We pride ourselves in it [Circle Conference] being a business and networking conference. We know there are a number of projects that have come together because people have met at the Circle in Abu Dhabi," Mr Shepheard said.
He said there are a number of new and up-and-coming Arabic filmmakers who have found producers and mentors from the international line-up.
"Tangible things have happened," he said. "They have learned things and managed to get insight from industry professionals."
Evidence of this is through the success of last year's Shasha Grant winner, Haifa al Mansour, whose film Wajda is being developed as a co-production between the US and Germany.
Her advice to young filmmakers yesterday was to be as transparent as possible.
"The audience has to feel the sincerity behind your work," she said.
The four remaining finalists were: Egypt's Gihan Faisa for Burkan, the story of a group of travellers stranded at Dubai International Airport due to the volcanic ash cloud from northern Europe; Mohamed Abdulmajid for Beit Soureen (Palestine/UK); Jordan's Rifqi Assaf for The Curve; and Rana Kazkaz and Anas Khalaf for Dama Scenes (Syria/US).
The deadline for the call for entries in the 2011 competition is April 1.