dubai // Stronger cinematic ties between countries in the Arab world will help movies reach larger audiences and resolve distribution difficulties in the region, senior producers at the Dubai International Film Festival said at the weekend.
Hania Mroue, the director of the only arthouse cinema in Lebanon, Beirut's Metropolis Cinema, said more co-productions in the region were vital to the industry.
"It is inconceivable that we don't do more co-productions when we speak the same language, even if we have different dialects," Mroue said. "This is a growing market with 400 million Arabs in the region and joining together will help the industry."
Mohammed Hefzy, the Egyptian producer of the feature film Microphone, which competes with a dozen others in the Muhr Arab Awards, described the market as tough because of competition from big budget Hollywood productions.
"It's a tough situation and it's a hard industry," Hefzy said. "In Egypt, Lebanon and the Gulf, distribution is controlled by theatre owners. It is difficult for low-budget independent films and for independent distributors to succeed."
The stranglehold over distribution made it tough for independent filmmakers to reach across the region. Markets such as Egypt, which permits only eight prints of foreign movies across 400 theatres, add to the obstacles filmmakers faced.
Low budgets are key to successful collaborations, Hefzy said.
"If budgets are low enough, you can find a successful collaboration," he said. "You always must keep your budget in mind."
This view was backed Georges Schoucair, a Lebanese producer, who will work with Hefzy over the next year on an Arabic language movie titled Housekeeping, with Egyptian and Lebanese stars.
The movie is about a Beirut cleaning lady and her fight against eviction. It is one of 15 regional productions chosen by the Dubai festival for funding and production support from more than 130 submissions from countries including Morocco, Algeria, Syria and Iraq.
Schoucair believes a movie must have a local flavour and succeed in its country of origin before it is taken to the region.
"Ten years ago we didn't have this opportunity to work with other Arab companies," said Schoucair, who is showing a short entitled A Stray Bullet at the Dubai festival. "Unless a movie is strong in its own market, it will be difficult distributing it in the rest of the Arab world or even in Europe. Collaboration will also help develop strong scripts."