When City of Life, a feature film set in the UAE, premiered at last week's Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), it was contributing to the steady growth of the Dubai Film Market. The buzz around the film trickled through to industry buyers at the film market, who look for new releases to sell to television and cinemas around the world. Organisers said it was the best year for the film market since it was launched in 2004.
"It's very exciting," said Ali Mostafa, the Emirati writer, director and co-producer of City of Life. "That's the point of making films. People watch them but in the industry the people you would like to watch them are distributors." More than 323 films were screened at the film market this year, up from 211 in last year's programme. Media professionals attended more than 3,100 screenings, almost triple the number that watched at last year's film market.
"Because of the worldwide crisis, people are consuming much more content at home and at cinemas than even before," said Ziad Yaghi, the director of the market. "This market can become a facilitator for Arab films to be seen worldwide, more so this year than any other." But despite the attention the DIFF's premieres garnered, many are still far from making it to TV or cinemas, providing a fat pay cheque for their makers.
Securing the rights to distribute movies is a complex process. Negotiations, which include how the film can be viewed - from cinemas, pay-per-view and home video to free-to-air TV - and the amount of times it can be aired can take several weeks. Depending on those factors, distribution contracts can range between several million dirham and just several thousand. Mr Yaghi declined to provide specific figures for rights, saying it could affect negotiations.
Brennan Wrenn, a senior programmer for Australia's SBS TV, made his third trip to the DIFF this year and said a number of films had caught his eye. "I'm not doing the deals directly but selecting the titles. When I get back, we'll probably look to acquire about six titles," Mr Wrenn said. Mona Kwan, the director of acquisitions and publicity for Jaguar Distribution, attended the Dubai Film Market to get a taste of the international releases that could be suitable for in-flight movies for her airline clients.
As for City of Life, seen by about 100 distributors, Mr Mostafa's immediate success may come this week as he meets with local distributors to release the film throughout the Middle East in the first quarter of next year. Plans to distribute the film throughout India and Europe are also in the works, he said. "At the end of the day, we still want distributors to watch our films. We also want people to watch our films everywhere," Mr Mostafa said.