With around 30 computer stations at one end and scattering of settees and armchairs at the other, it looks like just another small function room. The first giveaway that it is something more, is that laid out on a table are the best chocolate cookies available at the Dubai International Film Festival. The modest set-up in fact comprises the Dubai Film Market, the epicenter of film industry activity at the festival that is more often than not hidden from the public eye. "At this time last year," said Ziad Yaghi, the director of the market, "only about 100 people had used the facilities and there were certainly no pending deals to announce."
At the halfway point of this year's festival, 163 distinct users have screened 2,217 titles and at least one Australian broadcaster, SBS TV, and one US distributor to television, Shoreline Entertainment, have said they have their sights set on acquiring at least six titles each after the close of the festival. "I'm not doing the deals directly, but selecting the titles," said Brennan Wrenn, the senior programmer for SBS TV. "When I get back, we'll probably look to acquire about six titles." Aside from outpacing last year's activities at the festival's midpoint, the market is winning rave reviews from users who are accustomed to dealing with much less sophisticated technology when buying or programming films for their respective outlets.
Potential buyers are able to access 323 titles via touch-screen technology on the market's computers, advancing, pausing and reviewing films, all with a touch of the screen. Sales agents for the titles are also onhand and viewers can send e-mails to them directly from the viewing screen. The system also enables users to personalise their viewing, allowing them to create files containing the titles they have screened, their own ratings of the titles, additional notes and contact information for sales agents. "I'm amazed by the facilities," said one German buyer for TV who asked not to be named. "Usually at markets you have DVD access to older titles, not the titles that are part of the concurrent festival. And certainly not with this image quality. I would love to have the same system at my home." Although the general software for the digitalization and viewing of titles is universally available, the programmers have customized it for the Dubai Film Market. Mr Yaghi attributed the increase in activity to his staff's research into last year's users and subsequent sales. "We were able to see who viewed which titles and compare that with sales that were then made," he said.
"That enabled us to pinpoint the serious buyers as opposed to those who were not really serious. So we have been much more effective in terms of who we have invited to this year's market." Industry attendees from outside of the UAE are generally brought to the event at the expense of the festival. Topping the list of most screened titles at the market is the Emirati director Mostafa Ali's, City of Life, the first Emirati feature with international prospects, the Palestinian director Michel Khleifi's Zindeeq, and Cartagena, which stars Sophie Marceau and Christopher Lambert.