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Fadi S Wahbeh speaking at a workshop at twofour54 on how to make a Tropfest film. Christopher Pike / The National
Fadi S Wahbeh speaking at a workshop at twofour54 on how to make a Tropfest film. Christopher Pike / The National
Tropfest Arabia is back, this year with the signature idea 'time'. Christopher Pike / The National
Tropfest Arabia is back, this year with the signature idea 'time'. Christopher Pike / The National

Tropfest Arabia 2013: It's time for lights, camera and action

To guide first-time entrants to the Tropfest Arabia short film competition, the organisers are holding free workshops at 14 cities across the Arab world.

With three months to go before the submission deadline, the organisers of Tropfest Arabia have been imparting some practical tips to first-time entrants.

Open to nationals from the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) countries, the short film competition aims to inspire creativity and develop a subculture of movie-making in the region.

This October, the 16 shortlisted finalists will have their movies screened at a gala ceremony on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche, with a jury of renowned filmmakers deciding on the night their chosen winner.

To guide contestants, as well as lay down a few house rules, the organisers are holding free workshops at 14 cities across the Arab world. One recently took place in Abu Dhabi at the twofour54 media zone. Presenting it was Fadi S Wahbeh, a filmmaker and cinemato-grapher, former professor at the University of North Texas and current field operation producer at New York University, Abu Dhabi.

Here’s some of the advice he passed on to would-be entrants.

The backstory

Since the original Tropfest in Sydney, Australia in 1993, it has spread globally to become the biggest short-film competition in the world.

Now, events take place in nine different countries and regions around the world, one of which is Tropfest Arabia.

All of these follow a similar -model. Entrants have to produce an original short film of any genre, that is no longer than seven -minutes in length, including the credits.

The film must also contain what is known as the Tropfest Signature Item (TSI). This could be an object, a theme or a word. Examples from previous years include the number two, a set of keys or a balloon.

Timing out

“The requirement of this movie is that is has to be maximum seven minutes long. Seven minutes and one second, then you’re disqualified,” warns Wahbeh.

Also pay heed to the TSI. Without it, your film will also be ruled out of contention.

Speaking about the last Tropfest Arabia’s TSI, the number two, Wahbeh says: “You can put a number two any way you like. Some of them made this number the focus of their story, some people just put it there to satisfy the requirement. Nothing says you have to make a story about the TSI.”

This year’s TSI is “time”. Interpret that as you will.

But Wahdeh advises: “It’s all about simplicity. I’ve been teaching film for a long time. Make it simple. If you’re walking the grey line with the concept, you’re setting yourself up for a fail.”

First showing

The movie must be an original piece that will be premiered at Tropfest.

“It can’t be something that you did as a class assignment, or something that you did last year and want to change some bits,” explains Wahbeh.

Also, entrants must be aware of cultural sensibilities. So anything that is deemed insensitive to the culture, politics or religion of the region is likely to be rejected by judges.

“It does not say you cannot talk about these issues, but you have to be sensitive,” cedes Wahbeh.

“Last year the big story in the Middle East was the revolutions, so many of the movies were about this. You just have to be smart and careful.”

Last act

Wahbeh urges entrants not to wait until the August 31 deadline.“My argument is do not wait until August 31. Trust me, everything will go wrong if you do this,” he says.

“The computer will crash; the camera will stop working; the battery will die; your main actor will go missing; your location – one day you have a house, the next time you won’t have a house.”

And whether your film makes it to the final screening, or is flatly rejected by the judges from the off, Wahbeh believes anyone who completes the challenge deserves plaudits.

While there’s US$12,500 (Dh45,900) and a trip to Los Angeles up for grabs for the winner, he states this shouldn’t be your reason for entering.

“The minute you submit your movie, I believe you’re a winner. Whether it gets selected or not, the sense of accomplishment that went into the process makes you a winner,” he argues.

“This should be the motive for you. Of course it will be great if you get paid for doing it, but the money shouldn’t be your main motive.”

Films have to be submitted by 5pm on August 31. For more information about Tropfest Arabia, visit www.tropfest.com

hberger@thenational.ae

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