With the curtain closing on another Gulf Film Festival, the collaborations and industry initiatives borne out of this year's event should ensure a steady stream of regional content for many festivals to come
The long and short of the Gulf Film Festival
The sixth edition of the Gulf Film Festival drew to a close last night at Dubai’s Festival City following a week of screenings, workshops, mentoring sessions and late-night -discussions.
Naturally, much of the talk concerned the opening film Wadjda, which – in a story almost now part of GFF folklore – began here as a script in 2008. But it was clear among attendees that Haifaa Al Mansour’s Saudi drama wouldn’t be the last to emerge from the festival’s industry initiatives.
“I see this as a great forum for young GCC filmmakers,” said Mohammed Alhamadi, the Qatari producer behind the shorts Bidoon, I and His Name, all appearing on this year’s schedule. “It feels like it’s very much orientated to them instead of festivals such as the Dubai Film Festival or the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which are more international. Here, it feels like you’re at home – everyone’s talking, exchanging notes, making relationships with each other and collaborating.” Alhamadi points to other successful collaborations that have emerged from the festival, such as last year’s film Huna London from Bahrain and The Crucified, which was one of the winners of the script market last year and a project he’s now producing.
Ensuring a steady flow of films for future festivals, three further scripts were selected during this year’s event for the Enjaaz Gulf Shorts programme, the production funding that awards up to US$50,000 (Dh184,000) to projects from GCC filmmakers. Stories involving taxi drivers, wearing headscarves in France and a teenage thief in Kurdistan should now all be given the financial impetus needed to see them completed in time for a GFF screening in the coming years.
“The Gulf Film Festival is a great platform that provides new filmmakers such as myself the opportunity to break into the festival,” said the first-time Emirati director Abdullah Aref, whose short Half Life, about a girl living with a rare mental condition, was selected as part of the festival’s Lights segment. “The support it offers allows me to continue directing movies.”
New support platforms were also unveiled this year, most notably one with the German Robert Bosch Stiftung foundation that will award three prizes of up to €60,000 (Dh290,000) to production teams from Germany and the Arab world for short animations, short or feature-length documentaries and short fiction films. Winning teams will also have the opportunity to visit the Berlinale Talent Campus that runs alongside Berlin’s annual film festival.
“I think this is probably one of the more successful festivals in the region when it comes to making filmmakers want to make films,” says Tarek Abu-Esber, whose short Al-Muqanna3 was appearing as part of the Made in Qatar section. “Some people might complain that perhaps there are too many shorts that play here and sometimes the quality isn’t the best. But I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is to give young people the festival experience, the chance to screen their film to an audience and defend it in a Q&A.”
Interestingly, one of the last films to screen at this year’s event, A Fallible Girl, came from a British director who might never have lived in the region, but whose filmmaking has been entwined with that of the UAE since its early days.
“I’ve known Masoud [Amralla Al Ali – the festival director] back to when he was running the Emirates Film Competition and I was making short films in film school,” says Conrad Clark. “I actually co-wrote a short film called Time Left that won an award at the Emirati Film Competition back in 2003.”
A Fallible Girl, a feature-length drama about Chinese immigrants working in Dubai, was a result of Clark’s repeated visits to the country. But thanks to the efforts of the Gulf Film Festival, it’s clear there are going to be numerous other filmmakers set to return as well.
“We believe that we’re going to be here at every single GFF for sure,” says Alhamadi. “It’s doing its job and it’s working very well.”
Sitting on the jury panel for the Gulf Features and Shorts competitions at this year’s Gulf Film Festival was the acclaimed Egyptian director Oussama Fawzi. We grabbed a few minutes with the man behind The Asphalt Kings – which picked up the Golden Pardo at the Locarno Film Festival in 1996 – to ask him about his first time at the festival
How has the Gulf Film Festival been for you?
It was great, a good experience and a new one because I had very little idea about Gulf cinema before. It gave me the chance to see a lot of movies from the region, which was very nice.
Having now seen Gulf cinema, what can you take away from it?
What I noticed is that Gulf films – especially those from the Emirates – are more influenced by American movies. But without a doubt there were movies that had a special unique Gulf feature to them and talk about Gulf topics, which is rare.
Were you surprised by the topics that were brought up?
Absolutely. It’s clear they’re starting to criticise themselves and that’s very good. For a long time they’ve been a closed society and have always been very sensitive, but now they’re starting to criticise themselves and I’m seeing this in the films I’ve been watching.
How is the film industry in Egypt at the moment?
It’s very bad. I don’t want to deal with them anymore, that’s why my next film will be independent. The hope is in independence.
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