x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Regional Kickstarter-type project harnesses power of the crowd

Raising money for projects in the Middle East is about to get a whole lot easier with the launch of a dedicated crowd-funding website for the region.

Dina Hamdan. Courtesy Antoine Boureau
Dina Hamdan. Courtesy Antoine Boureau

In tough economic times, when record companies and film production houses are tightening their belts, the kindness of strangers may be the only option.

Just take Kickstarter, the US-based website that connects creative minds with the people willing to fund their idea. Since its launch in 2008, Kickstarter has been the platform for more than US$175 million (Dh643 million) of donations for new projects - most of it by ordinary folk with a passion for patronage.

A similar model is about to launch in the UAE on July 1. Aflamnah is aimed at indie filmmakers, musicians, artists, app-makers and other creatives across the Middle East who can promote their idea online and, hopefully, raise the cash to get it off the ground.

Currently, only projects by US citizens can be listed on Kickstarter and so, according to Aflamnah's principal founder, Vida Rizq, the new site is responding to a very real need in the region's creative community.

"I've worked as a consultant on film festivals in the UAE and seen the struggles that filmmakers go through," she says. "Too often, the main reason why a project doesn't happen is funding."

The structure of Aflamnah follows that of Kickstarter - those pitching their ideas set a target monetary figure and are given a webpage to explain to potential donors what they're trying to do. There are a number of funding options, with donations starting at $10 and going up into the thousands, and incremental rewards depending on how much a person gives to the project.

The project has a nail-biting 28 days to accrue enough donations to meet that target figure. If it fails, all donations are cancelled and it's back to square one.

"People will not necessarily be looking for huge sums of money," says Rizq. "It might be the final leg of a project; for example, a film that is in post-production but just can't fund that last little bit."

Unlike Kickstarter, which was founded in 2008 by Perry Chen, those listing a project on Aflamnah pay a $100 (Dh367) fee to get started. If their pitch is successful and they meet the target sum of funding, then Aflamnah takes a six per cent cut of the final amount raised.

Rizq says that the Aflamnah team will monitor the pitches that are coming on to the site, looking for those with unrealistic targets and making sure that what's listed is relevant. "It could be an Arab artist looking to exhibit in London or a Japanese artist that wants to exhibit in the UAE," Rizq explains. "As long as a person's project starts or ends in the Middle East, then they can apply."

Dima Hamdan will be one of the first people pitching on Aflamnah when it launches. Her film, The Kidnap, is a crime thriller set in Jordan.

"It's the story of an important man in the police force whose wife is pregnant and the day before the birth she is kidnapped. It's a revenge movie, in part," Hamdan explains. "We've finished development, finalised the script and the cast is coming together. It's now about financing, but the plan is to go into production by the end of the year or spring 2013."

Crowd-funding backers get no royalties or investment in the project if it proves a commercial success. Enticing perks and rewards, according to how much they give, is the key to success. But it's also about thinking creatively. So for a photography project, donors could get a signed print once the work is completed. A musician might offer backers a shout-out in the liner notes of their debut album, while a filmmaker could offer big donors a walk-on part in the movie once it goes into production.

"Some are just happy with a thank you, others want their names in the credits. But if there's any part of the production we can get people involved in, then we will," says Hamdan. But for those asking for funding, she says, "most importantly, you need to be very specific about why you want that money and where it will go".

Hamdan has helped to fund a number of her friends' films in the past, and she's confident that the crowd-funding model will sit well in the Middle East. "You only need to go to Facebook and see the level of engagement online when a major event happens - like the Revolution in Egypt. It's not just people exchanging links; there's a flurry of activity. People want to do something."

Rizq echoes this sentiment, saying that the crowd-funding model is a good fit for the region. "Aflamnah takes away the embarrassment of having to ask for help. It's really about more than patronage, it's about drawing on community spirit and involving people in your ideas."

But so much of Kickstarter's success relies on trust. Ensuring that rewards reach backers and successful pitches are seen through will be the real test once Aflamnah launches.

Hamdan is optimistic. "The key thing about crowd-funding is that you say to people: 'Don't just be a recipient, you can have a say in the works of art that you want to see around you.' I really feel it's about democratising culture and art."

Aflamnah launches on July 1. See www.aflamnah.com