x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Regional filmmakers get a boost from the Abu Dhabi Film Festival

Financial aid from the ADFF is helping filmmakers to get their projects going and bring them to completion.

The Moroccan director Leila Kilani, pictured in Cannes, said the help she received from Abu Dhabi went much further than financial assistance.
The Moroccan director Leila Kilani, pictured in Cannes, said the help she received from Abu Dhabi went much further than financial assistance.

The closing night of the Director's Fortnight strand of the Cannes Film Festival saw the Moroccan director Leila Kilani take to the stage. It was a significant moment for the director and also for SANAD, the development and post-production fund of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival created in April, 2010. In Cannes, SANAD took the opportunity to announce the next wave of awards.

Kilani was part of the first wave of filmmakers to receive a grant, for her film Sur la Planche (On The Plank). It is about a young girl, Badia, who dreams of escaping her job in a shrimp factory and getting in with the cool, middle-class kids in her neighbourhood. Badia attempts to get a job in the Free Zone, a haven for subcontractors in the south of Tangiers, but without the right badges and permits she is an outsider and soon turns to crime in an attempt to move up the social ladder.

The director spoke of the importance of the SANAD grant in helping her to complete the film and get to Cannes. She says the fund provided more than just material support in the early stages of post-production: "In this step you are very weak because of course you need money to finish your post-production and at the same time you need people who believe in your project, and that is what happened with SANAD, they were so supportive. We are so happy with them."

Another recipient of an award, Mohamed al-Daradji, was also in Cannes. The director of Son of Babylon was selected for the sixth Cinefondation Atelier in Cannes after receiving a development grant for his narrative project The Train Station. Son of Babylon had its world premiere in Abu Dhabi before being selected for the Sundance and Berlin festivals. Al-Daradji was also the winner of the inaugural Variety Award for best Middle East filmmaker in 2010.

The new grants were awarded to both established and first-time filmmakers. Well-known filmmakers including Jocelyne Saab from Lebanon, Alabdallah from Syria and Abderrahmane Sissako from Mauritania are among the directors of the selected projects.

SANAD has US$500,000 (Dh1.8 million) at its disposal annually and makes grants in two categories: for films at development stage it can award up to $20,000 and for films in post-production it awards up to $60,000. To be eligible, the director or producer must come from an Arabian country or certain African countries.

Following the success of the first wave of filmmakers it was no surprise to hear the head of SANAD, Marie-Pierre Macia, state: "The selection process is no easy task since we receive a huge number of high-quality projects. But it boosts our hope and enthusiasm to see some of the post-production projects going on to international success."

One of the interesting aspects of the announcements of the new wave of films is that the SANAD is willingly supporting projects through various stages of production. Hala Alabdalla was awarded a post-production grant for the project As if We Were Catching a Cobra, after having received a development grant in 2010.

Elissa Saif al Mazrouei, director of special projects, said: "Being able to help this film through various stages of its completion is a strong reflection of ADFF's commitment to our region's filmmakers."

One of the 11 films to be awarded a grant in 2011 is the documentary No Direction Home, a UAE project being produced by Rashid al-Marri, a UAE producer who has worked for Dubai Media Incorporated. It is to be directed by Guy Brooks and John Hollingsworth and is about the impact that the September 11, 2001, attacks had on a Palestinian refugee who has worked in more than 100 countries.

Another documentary with strong connections to the UAE receiving a development grant is Miss Hissa Hilal, directed by Stefanie Brockhaus, about the Saudi Arabian poet who came to fame through Abu Dhabi's Million's Poet television show. The 43-year-old mother and housewife gained international fame with poems critical of terrorism and religious extremists.

Six of the projects to be awarded grants were to help the development of documentaries. Another award went to Iraqi Odyssey, which is to be directed by Samir, who has made more than 40 films, including Forget Baghdad in 2002. His latest project is a look at the displacement around the globe of a middle class Iraqi family.

The Jordanian resident Mais Darwazeh's new project, My Love Awaits by the Sea, is another tale of displacement that is being developed. It is a personal account, weaving together fairy tale and reality as it takes the filmmaker on a journey back to her country of origin.

Women in Mediterranean Sea is the provisional title of the new film from Jocelyne Saab. The director made her name with several films about Beirut and her new documentary examines the many cultural, social, political and artistic aspects of dance and what they say about gender in the region.

Another female documentary-maker receiving a grant is the Algerian Regine Abadia. Her documentary Yasmina and Mohammed is about the Algerian novelist Yasmina Khadra, which is the pen name of the writer Mohammed Moulessehoul, a commanding officer of the Algerian army.

In the Narrative strand, development grants have been awarded to Yemen's first female filmmaker, Khadija al Salami, for her adaptation of Nojood Ali's book, I Am Nojood, 10 Years Old and Divorced, about a young girl forced into marriage by a poverty-stricken family.

One of Africa's best-known directors, Abderrahmane Sissako, has received a grant to develop Mettou, the story of a freed slave who is widowed at the age of 20.

The third Narrative project is Origins by the Algerian filmmaker Malek Bensmail. It's about two actors, an Algerian male and Japanese female, who retrace the footsteps of an Islamic scholar who went from Algiers to Cairo through Istanbul to Tokyo.

Only two projects received post-production grants this year, both documentaries. They are Hala al Abdalla's As If We Were Catching a Cobra, a documentary taking a look at the traditions of newspaper cartoons in the Arabic world, and El Gusto, by Safina Bousbia, about an orchestra of Jewish and Muslim musicians that reunites after a 50-year hiatus caused by the Algerian civil war.