x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Budding filmmakers on hunt for investors

Often production costs are a factor, while sometimes a star cast can work wonders, but genuine talent is always a drawcard.

For the Lebanese filmmaker Nour Wazzi, the Diff is about showcasing plans and reaching out to potential partners.
For the Lebanese filmmaker Nour Wazzi, the Diff is about showcasing plans and reaching out to potential partners.

Dubai // A star cast of veteran and young Arab and British actors may provide the leverage a young Lebanese filmmaker needs to break into the competitive, multimillion-dollar feature film industry.

For a budding filmmaker like Beirut-born Nour Wazzi, the Dubai International Film Festival (Diff) is about showcasing plans and reaching out to potential partners to realise the long-cherished dream of making feature films.

Well-known names such as the Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass, the Palestinian French actress Yasmine al Massri and the British actor Jimmy Akingbola - who acted in Wazzi's short film, Habibti - have committed to her planned feature.

Wazzi believes this will appeal to investors she meets at the festival.

"I'm lucky I'm an Arab and there is a lot of support coming from the Arab world these days," Wazzi said. "I think promoting culture is important because of a negative stereotype that Arabs have in society nowadays."

Habibti has its premiere on Saturday and Sunday in the Diff Muhr Arab Awards official competition.

In the film, a conservative mother, played by Abbass, is shocked to find her estranged daughter living with a boyfriend in London when she pays her a surprise visit.

The camera captures the tension between the three characters and the pain in the mother's eyes when her reason for leaving Beirut is revealed to be her husband's death.

"The lives of a lot of women here are centred around their husbands, and once they lose them their lives lose momentum, so they have to reinvent themselves," said Wazzi, who lives in London and produces documentaries and short films.

"What connects the mother and boyfriend is the daughter, who is their middle ground. She is their habibti - their darling, their love."

Venues like the Diff help independent filmmakers make contact with investors looking for new projects. Those projects, experts say, must be compelling and have realistic budgets.

"It's not hard to meet people at festivals, the thing is to convert the meeting into money," said Nicolas Forzy, an independent producer and founder of Dubai-based 4Z productions, which focuses on Emirati directors and writers. "The key thing for this region is to start small, with local stories."

Forzy, a French national, said keeping the budget low would help first-timers.

"The feedback I get from sales professionals is that any film budget close to US$2 million (Dh7.3m) is expensive," Forzy said. "Most films in the region are in the $1m to $1.5m mark. The risk for the investor with a new director must be significantly low."

About 220 films are being showcased from contemporary Arab, Asian and African cinema, and the festival also hosts workshops to aid young filmmakers.

Shivani Pandya, the Diff managing director, said the festival aimed to address concerns of new entrants.

"We have tried to be very strategic with the guidance, workshops, support and advice that is given," Ms Pandya said. "The first thing young directors should realise is that they must have a producer to handle the business side. It is the connections we hope people will make here that will help them."

Saima Duhare, a British theatre actor and director visiting from London, is hoping to make a crucial jump into cinema. She recently got an executive producer onboard to help kick-start her search for financiers.

"The biggest challenge is how do you convince people that you can make a good film," said Duhare, who was born in Lahore, Pakistan, and grew up in Birmingham. "Passion doesn't always work."

She aims to turn her theatrical production into a feature film. Her production, I'm a Londoner, explores a British Muslim woman's discovery that her lover's disappearance in London is inextricably tied to her younger brother's death in Afghanistan.

The production won praise as "extraordinary real and moving" from The British Theatre Guide.

Duhare hopes to interest financiers in a film with a diverse cast including eastern European, Nigerian, Irish and Muslim characters to tell the story of urban London.

She aims to use the theme that brought people into the theatre as the draw for her planned movie.

"Like the play, the movie is about people who get shunned, who get left out," she said. "I know they have fascinating stories to tell."