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A scene from The Kingdom.
A scene from The Kingdom.

Council to link film students with veterans of industry

A new media council, being launched at this year's Circle Conference, will help students to become involved with film professionals and productions, organisers say.

ABU DHABI // A new media council, being launched at this year's Circle Conference, will help students to become involved with film professionals and productions, organisers say. Greg Unrau, head of production and training for the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC), the body organising the conference, said the council was an "exciting development" for the emerging film industry in the UAE.

"If filmmaking is going to grow in the country and in the region, then we need to feed the industry," he said. "The more industry professionals talk to educational institutions, then the more success we will have with that." The Emirates Media Skills Training Council will meet for the first time on October 11. It will bring together schools, media production companies and broadcasters from throughout the region.

Members will meet two or three times a year to streamline media education in the UAE to fit the needs of the industry. "The first thing to do is to take the perception away from the students that directing, producing and acting are the only things to aim for. We want to profile the 30 to 40 jobs that go under these," he said. "Then we want to open channels of communication between the students and the people already making films in the region so that they can get on to the sets and gain experience."

Mr Unrau added: "We are not a credited training body or a placement agency, but we can facilitate these opportunities by creating a communicative hub." David Shepheard, the director of the film commission, said the training council would bring the industry closer to the educational institutions by becoming a "nurturing hub". He said it was "an important step" in connecting students and professionals.

The Circle Conference, now in its third year, is held during the Middle East International Film Festival and brings in experts to lead panels and discussions with local and regional filmmakers. Barbara deFina, the producer of GoodFellas and Casino, will be talking about women in film and giving a masterclass on how to package and pitch a project. Walter Parkes, the producer of Men in Black and The Kite Runner will discuss Eastern and Western market crossover, and Sanford Panitch, the president of Fox International Productions, will be giving an open interview from an Arabian-style majlis.

The five finalists for the Shasha Grant Award, ADFC's international screenwriting and pitch competition, will also be judged during the two-day conference. Two entries from Egypt, one from Lebanon, one from the Palestinian territories and one from the US are vying for a $100,000 (Dh367,000) development grant and a deal with Imagenation Abu Dhabi. Last year's winner, Hicham Ayouch, from Morocco, met David Thompson, a producer, at the 2008 conference, and saw his film Samba signed by 20th Century Fox, with distribution beginning next year. It will be Fox's first Arabic-language feature film.

The ADFC's film locations service also is making its debut during the conference. Ammar al Khrisat said four major Hollywood studies were looking at filming in the UAE, although he was not able to name them. "We have desert, sea, green oases and modern cities all within a range of 80km," Mr al Khrisat said. "It is a really good place to film. As the industry expands here, we hope that more big-budget films will be able to credit the UAE as their location."

The Kingdom, a 2007 action blockbuster starring Jamie Foxx, was partly filmed in Abu Dhabi. aseaman@thenational.ae

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