x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Cannes deal can open doors for Arab filmmakers

A deal signed at the Cannes Film Festival should provide opportunities for talented Arab filmmakers.

C Sky Pictures and twofour54 Abu Dhabi have signed a new development deal in Cannes that will operate under the name C Sky Abu Dhabi.

The award-winning Kuwaiti filmmaker Walid al Awadi of C Sky Pictures and Wayne Borg, the deputy chief executive and the chief operating officer of twofour54, were in Cannes to announce the three-year partnership deal.

Walid al Awadi's new film Tora Bora, about a Pakistani family who go to Afghanistan to search for their son who has gone to fight alongside al Qa'eda, is playing at the Cannes market on Wednesday. Tora Bora is the first project to be produced under the agreement. The film was shot in the Gulf, Morocco and Europe and stars Saad al Faraj and Asmahan Tawfiq.

"We hope to develop three pictures each year under the deal as well as TV projects," said Borg "For us it is for helping and developing Arab talent with seasoned professionals like Awadi, who has had tremendous success in the US and now wants to come back to the region.

"It's about looking for the right project and it's about finding the right people and finding contemporary content that connects with the young audience and we think it's important for Arab stories to come to the fore and hopefully Awadi will lead that process.

"Our brief is to create a hub that the creative community can come to and produce content."

Awadi said that the films will not just be concentrating on Arab filmmakers and that the company will be looking for western mentors to help with projects. He added that he expected that a new project "will start to be developed as soon as we return to Abu Dhabi after Cannes. We believe that there will be something to add in a month about our first project."

There was no mention of the type of budgets that are likely to be committed for the projects, but Borg stressed that this is a new opportunity for UAE filmmakers to break into the film industry.

Four of those looking to benefit from the new venture have been taken to Cannes by the Abu Dhabi Film Commission: the scriptwriter Ahmed Arshi, who has a film, Alaska, optioned by ImageNation; Abdulla al Kaabi, director of the short film, The Philosopher starring Jean Reno; Abdelrahman Mohamed, a producer working with the entertainment company Jenova, and Fadel al Muhairi, a director working on the screenplay Hormuz Reconquista, a historical feature on the Portuguese invasion of Arabia in the early 1500s.

Says Arshi: "I have three scripts here in market so hopefully I'll get one deal from them. Two are based in the Middle East and the other is in the US called Undeserved Fate. The films in the Middle East are a thriller and a road trip comedy.

"Opportunities are everywhere. "The delegation is helping by exposing me to the producers and a lot of producers come to the Abu Dhabi Pavilion and they are directed to me." Elsewhere, the Doha Film Institute (DFI) announced that the third edition of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival will run from October 25-29 and will feature the world premiere of the Arabian epic Black Gold. The film was co-produced by the DFI and is set in the Gulf at the start of the oil boom.

The big commotion of the film festival so far took place at the market screening of Unlawful Killing, a film directed by Keith Allen about the 2007 inquest into the death of Princess Diana. Financed by Mohammed al Fayed the father of Dodi Fayed, who also died in the 1997 Paris car crash that killed Diana, the film makes accusations against the British royal family.

The press conference that took place after the screening turned into a farce. Martyn Gregory, author of Diana, The Last Days, a book about the princess's death, constantly heckled Allen over the film's contents. Allen disclosed that Fayed put up all of the £2.5 million (Dh14.8million) needed to make the film. The former Harrods owner did not make his expected appearance at the press conference.

The commotion at the press conference spiced up what has otherwise been an unusual start to the festival. For the first time in several years, the market has seen a lively start to deals with no talk of the credit crunch. In contrast the film competition has made a slow start.