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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 September 2018

Deadline nears for Gulf initiative that rewards $10,000 for most impressive film pitch

The initiative celebrates International Women’s History Month by awarding a female filmmaker with a US$10,000 prize towards producing their next short

The Female Short Film programme is about empowerment. Getty
The Female Short Film programme is about empowerment. Getty

It’s International Women’s History Month until the end of March, and for one female filmmaker that could mean US$10,000 (Dh36,700) towards producing their next short thanks to the Female Short Film Programme, a partnership between Women in Film Emirates and emirates-based Paton Productions.

The funds come courtesy of Paton’s chief Nancy Paton, an award-winning Abu Dhabi-based filmmaker who directed last year’s global winner of the 48-Hour Film Project, Choke, and is working on what looks like it may become one of the first movies to be shot in Saudi Arabia after the recent ending of production restrictions, the Lindsay Lohan-led Frame.

Not that restrictions are necessarily a hurdle for Paton – her 2016 film Postpartum was also shot in the kingdom with an entirely female, amateur crew under less clear legal circumstances, and she is an occasional lecturer at the Raffles Design Institute in Riyadh.

Paton says that she had attempted to start a competition such as this last year, when she moved to Abu Dhabi. Launching the challenge on her own website, however, she found that she received very few entries, most of them were from men and of limited quality.

This was the point at which she decided to team up with the meetup group, Women in Film Emirates. “I’d originally talked to the Women in Film people last year, as I was thinking of starting something similar when I moved here, but they were already here,” she says. “I liked what they were trying to do, and they already had about 50 people attending meetings, but I was just too busy to help out at that point as I’d just moved here.”

Fast-forward to 2018 and, after Paton’s effort to launch a women’s film competition on her website, the stars suddenly aligned. “I got in touch with them and said ‘why not do it together? We’ll change it around a bit and do it for Women’s History Month? We can hold the competition at a meeting where people can come and pitch their ideas and the one we pick on the night is the film we make’.”

The germ of an idea was born, and this Wednesday it comes to fruition when interested parties are invited to pitch their ideas at twofour54’s Creative Lab. These will be judged 50 per cent on the pitch itself and 50 per cent on a one-page submission that must also be presented, meaning that those who are strong on pitching face-to-face but weak on paper, and vice versa, have an equal chance of taking home the prize.

Paton says: “I want to do this every year. To make something that is both culturally relevant to the region, and appealing to the West. That’s a big part of my mission, to try and build bridges between the two cultures, but also to help develop women in the region to succeed in the film industry.”

Paton has some experience in this field. Her Postpartum was shot in Riyadh with a crew of 26 amateurs and involved a three-day workshop from Paton, her art director and her director of photography to prime the newcomers for the task ahead. While last year’s Choke, which Paton directed, was a vehicle for playwright Nazish Khan to break into the film industry as a screenwriter. The $100,000 (Dh367,000) prize from the 48-Hour Film Project suggests it succeeded on at least one level.

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This time around, Paton will be serving as a producer as her commitments on Frame preclude her from directing, but her ambition is to produce much more than a short film. “We want to mentor the winner, put it into festivals, get it out on the web. We’ll do all the production, find the crew, hopefully all women, and give all the support needed. Plus, we hope to develop female filmmakers who maybe in future can work on our feature films,” she says.

“A competition like this is a great place to find future gaffers and runners and other crew members. I meet a lot of girls who really could work in serious roles in the industry, but they don’t have the belief in themselves. We want to develop that, and I hope even the girls that don’t win will maybe help out elsewhere on the film and maybe learn from the experience and maybe even win next year. It’s not just a film competition, it’s about helping the local industry, and we hope to show the finished product at Diff in December.”

Any women who are interested in the project should turn up at 7pm on March 28 at twofour54 Creative Lab, Abu Dhabi, with a one-page summary of your idea, and an enthusiastic pitch. For more details, visit patonproductions.com

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