Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 11 December 2019

Aflamnah finds creativity in crowdsourcing

A year after launching Aflamnah, founders Vida Rizq and Lotfi Bencheikh talk about the progress of the first crowdfunding platform in the Middle East.
The founders of Aflamnah, Vida Rizq and Lotfi Bencheikh. Jake Badger for The National
The founders of Aflamnah, Vida Rizq and Lotfi Bencheikh. Jake Badger for The National

NNot so long ago, anyone from this region who faced a funding shortfall in achieving their artistic aspirations was limited in their options.

They could either plead to a wealthy benefactor to help them out, or go through the protracted process of applying to an arts fund.

It all changed in July 2012, when Vida Rizq and Lotfi Bencheikh launched Aflamnah, the first crowdfunding platform in the Middle East.

Following the model of companies such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo in the West, it aims to give filmmakers, artists, graphic novelists and other creative types the means to raise the cash in small amounts from numerous donors.

Gaining momentum

Rizq said the first few months of running Aflamnah, which takes its name from an Arabic word meaning “our stories” or “our films”, had been “a roller-coaster ride of emotions” with as many disappointments as successes. But they gradually bore down on their key targets and aims.

“The challenges are that crowdfunding is a full-time job. You have to work so hard to achieve the word out there because we’re a new concept in the region,” she says.

Crowdfunding, or crowd-sourcing as it’s also known, is becoming increasingly prevalent worldwide, especially in North America. Even high-profile film industry figures, such as the director Spike Lee and the actor Zachary Quinto (Spock in the recent Star Trek movies), have used the method to kick-start their cinematic ventures.

Rizq says it is gaining momentum here, too. In their 16 months of existence the number of new projects that they start each month has risen from two in July 2012 to six in October 2013.

“We were recently at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, where we held a seminar, and we struggled to find someone who hasn’t heard of us, which was heartening,” she recalls.

Pitching for support

One would think that in the Gulf, which statistically has a wealthier population than elsewhere, artists seeking help via crowdfunding would have no difficulties accumulating money.

Rizq says this is true to some extent – the average donation on Aflamnah is US$200 (Dh734) as opposed to $70 (Dh257) in the West – but there are other challenges.

“Because crowdfunding is so new here, it takes an average of seven communications [between the artist and potential donor] before someone takes their wallet out.

“[Donors] need to hear about it, they need to hear other people are getting behind it and they need to believe you’re going to do what you promise.

“We’ve found projects that offer some kind of tangible, physical something tend to get more support.”

This “something” could be a walk-in part in the proposed film, a signed copy of a script or graphic novel, or a mention in the credits.

She cited one project, the Playhouse Theatre in Dubai. Its would-be founders, Tiffany and Kemsley Dickinson, are promising seats marked with benefactors’ names in the proposed community theatre for $300 (Dh1,102) each.

Anyone who is generous enough to hand over $3,000 (Dh11,020) will have the honour of seeing a play about their life staged at the venue.

That said, Rizq says people should not be ashamed if they cannot afford such grand amounts.

“The idea of crowdfunding is that you have lots of people giving small amounts of money,” she contends.

“We want to feel comfortable if people give $10 [Dh37] and not feel pressured to give more, just because they live in the UAE and have a more disposable income.”

Success story

While there have been many projects she’s proud of, one that stands out for Rizq is When I Saw You, the award-winning feature film about the plight of Palestinian refugees in the aftermath of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

“We were really, really proud to have been associated with this film,” enthuses Rizq.

“This was one of our launch projects. It got theatrical release and won all these awards so it’s a success story all around.

“They raised the money for marketing and distribution, and this really helped to get the word out about this great film.”

While not all their projects have achieved such acclaim, Rizq says she’s also proud of the effect they’re having on the cultural scene in the UAE and beyond.

“People in the region have been used to having content and culture delivered to them. But now they can suddenly have a say on what kind of content and culture they want delivered to them,” she says.

“This is a change in attitude and mindset that will take time. We’re not quite there yet but we’re making good progress.”

Visit www.aflamnah.com for more information

in figures

47

projects so far

17%

have reached 100 per cent or more of their funding target. The international average is 25 per cent

10.6%

have achieved more than their goals. One project, When I Saw You, more than doubled its target

40%

have reached more than half their targets

On average, projects reach

40%

of their targets

Almost $200,000 has been raised in

16

months

The average contribution is over

$200

as opposed to $70 internationally

The largest contribution in cash has been

$10,000

hberger@thenational.ae

Updated: November 26, 2013 04:00 AM

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