x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Lack of funding stifles region's film production

Limited financing for the conception and post-production of projects is available in the Gulf but there is no production fund to develop entire movies.

The Lebanese director Mahmoud Kaabour says the region lacks production funds.
The Lebanese director Mahmoud Kaabour says the region lacks production funds.

Robert De Niro, Salma Hayek Pinault and Frieda Pinto are today due in Qatar for the second annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival - but the star-studded receptions they are expected to attend belie a lack of funding to make films in the Middle East.

Mahmoud Kaabour, the prominent Lebanese director, says that while limited financing for the conception and post-production of projects is available, there is no "production fund" to develop entire movies.

"The bulk of the expense goes in the actual shooting and there are no funds for this in the Middle East just yet," he said.

Mr Kaabour, who made the documentary Teta, Alf Marra(Grandma, a Thousand Times), which has been shortlisted for several awards in Doha, added competition between Middle East film producers, including TV broadcasters, is stifling the creation of locally produced films.

He called on local broadcasters to be more open towards joint-financing agreements.

"All the players in this budding film industry are being too competitive, without having the means to bring a full film to life [on] their own," said Mr Kaabour.

He said "letting down the competition between the different broadcasters … so that they can talk to each other" would help to ease the financial burden and improve the quality of locally produced films.

"We hope that a production fund will come to light soon," said Mr Kaabour.

"More importantly, we hope that co-production agreements will be formed by different broadcasters in this region."

Co-production agreements have been formed between the likes of HBO in the US and the BBC in Britain, said Tim Smythe, the chief executive of the production house Filmworks, which is facilitating the shoot of Mission: Impossible IV in Dubai.

But Mr Smythe said low production standards in the region could rule out collaborations on film projects.

"The biggest problem for me is that too much programming is done in-house," he said. "If a percentage of [Middle East] TV production was mandated to be done privately … you'd get an increase in production standards."

Mr Kaabour, who is the founder of Veritas Films, based in the UAE, claimed product placement, which helped to finance films such as the City of Life, set in Dubai, was not always appropriate.

"Product placement is a good thing for a commercial film but if you're trying to tell a really interesting personal film you don't really want a can of Coca-Cola in it," he said.

Mr Kaabour's documentary, which tells the story of his 83-year-old grandmother, has been nominated for Best Arab Film Award and the Audience Award for Best Documentary at its world premiere at the festival. He has also been nominated for the Best Arab Film-maker Award.

Despite receiving some funding from the Screen Institute Beirut (SIB) and Doha Film Institute (DFI), Mr Kaabour said he used the "last penny of my savings account" to finance the film.

"The truth is, what we received from the two [SIB and DFI] did not cover the film," he said.

"We paid more than 50 per cent. I don't think we will tap into our savings again."