Arab Film Producers ‘Need More Support’

DUBAI — Arab film producers must overcome wide-ranging financial, educational, distribution and piracy challenges to succeed, delegates attending DIFF 2009 heard this week.

In what proved to be one of the most straight-talking discussions of the week, an ‘A Team’ of leading regional producers analysed the challenges facing producers in the Variety-DIFF Spotlight: Arab Talent Arab Producers workshop. At heart was the need for an educational drive to better explain producers’ roles in filmmaking.

“We don’t have producers in the Arab world,” said Sheikah Al-Zain Al-Sabah, from Eagle Vision MediaGroup. “Nobody understands what the role is about.”

She said Amreeka (to screen again on December 15 at 2.15pm at the First Group Theatre), a story about a mother and son who leave the Palestinian West Bank to start a new life in Illinois, was unusual in that it was co-produced by Orbit Showtime, Rotana and National Geographic Entertainment. “But I doubt it would happen again,” she said. “They were taking a risk withCherien (Dabis) as it was her first feature, but the script was so relevant and personal.”

Georges Schoucair, representing Abbout Productions, believed the main problem for producers was status. “We are hunting for money here. The financial part of the job is very complicated and there are no institutions to turn to. We need private money; it’s the only way the producer has a tool against TV and the market.”

Rita Dagher from Yalla Productions said producers not only need to have a firm grasp of finances, but also be good managers of projects from inception to distribution, capable of collaborating closely with directors to achieve the film’s vision.

With the region’s film industry struggling to attract investors during the recent boom, the panel considered whether it could be in a better place to capitalise in the downturn.

But Mohamed Hefzy from Film Clinic didn’t think it would benefit. “This crisis has been bad timing because we were just starting to grow, but it’s set a lot of producers back.”

Compounding the industry has been a lack of regional anti-piracy laws, claimed Sheikah-Al-Zain. “People say ‘why should I spend on a film when there are copies of the film selling on the steps outside the movie theatre?’”

Layaly Badr from ART spoke candidly about the state of the Arab film market, drawing on her experience in Egypt, the biggest film market in the Arab world, where 60 per cent of film budgets are now taken from TV. “We don’t have producers who understand production,” she said.

Delegates heard in the question and answer session how one of the fundamental problems stifling the industry’s growth is theatre capacity, with only 1,000 theatres serving 320 million people across the MENA region — and 250 of those are in film-loving Egypt, which in itself isn’t enough for its 73 million population.

Layaly yearned for a day when the region could match funding now apparent in Europe and elsewhere. “I came back from Turin recently and there was 600,000 euros available to develop scripts — can you imagine that?”

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