ADFF: Connecting with Arab cinema

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ADFF: Connecting with Arab cinema

Poor acting, directing in Arab movies in focus at Abu Dhabi Film Festival

By Silvia Radan/staff Reporter

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Published: Mon 27 Oct 2014, 2:06 AM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 8:51 PM

Teresa Corvina, Bashar Atiyat, Guillaume de Saille, Khaled Abol Naga and Mohammed Hefzi during a panel discussion at the film festival. — Supplied photo

It is not uncommon in an Egyptian movie scene, for example, to see an actor playing a warrior from 200 years ago, yet wearing a watch. For the Western viewers in particular, many Arab TV films and series are hilarious, not because of excellent humour, but because of their overdramatic acting.

Poor film acting and directing in Arab cinema has finally come to the attention of the ongoing Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF), which opened the subject for public discussion for the first time in the festival’s eight years history.

“Storytelling in Arab movies is getting better and better, but the reason no film programmer wants to bring an Arab film to the Western audience is because the kind of acting in Arab cinema is not the kind the international audience can connect to,” said Teresa Corvina, main programmer of ADFF and moderator of the panel discussion.

“Bollywood cinema too is very special, having its own audience, but Bollywood directors are not interested in being at Cannes or Venice film festivals; they don’t care if their movies don’t move towards the West. The Arab world is different, because film directors here want to be in Cannes, Venice or Berlin and they get sad if their movies are not selected for these festivals. So what can we change?” she asked.

Answering Corvina were US film actor Bashar Atiyat of Jordanian background, Egyptian actor Khaled Abol Naga, French producer Guillaume de Seille and Egyptian producer working in Europe Mohammed Hefzi.

They all agreed that the problem is not that the actors can’t act, but the directors don’t often do their job of guiding the actors.

“Two years ago I was on a film set in UAE. I was sitting next to the director and at one point a 15-years-old actor came and asked the director how he wants him to best portray his role. ‘Don’t you see it is written director on my chair? Don’t come and bother me again’ was the director’s reply. I thought this is a disaster,” said Atiyat.

It was this attitude of supremacy and confusion on the film set that made Atiyat run a series of acting workshops in the UAE.

As a veteran actor in the US, Atiyat realised acting is not a job you learn in a week or a few years in university. It’s a lifetime of self development.

“I teach acting, but I also attend other acting workshops. The last one I went to, Mel Gibson walked in and he asked the teacher not to change anything; he wanted to learn what everybody else in the class was learning. That’s the attitude. That’s what needs to change here,” stressed Atiyat.

Hefzi pointed out that the most successful Arab movie this year is Theeb, also showing at ADFF. In his view, part of its success is due to having nonprofessional actors.

“Arab actors who come from a TV background tend to overact their roles. Sometimes, it is better to choose actors who don’t have this baggage, as acting for film is very different than acting for a TV series,” he said.

To add to the problem, film projects often come together in the last minute and the cast and crew don’t always have time to get to know each other.

“In France, and generally in the West, we choose the actors one year before filming, so they have time to get to know one another, and become more comfortable with each other. This helps a great deal when filming starts,” said de Seille.

He further pointed out that in the Arab world, actors barely get one week together before shooting, which helps, but it is not enough. —

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