This Dubai-based publishing house is putting UAE authors on the global map

Kira Jean, founder and CEO of The Dreamwork Collective, an all-women, independent publisher talks about the art of turning novels into film scripts

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By Mariella Radaelli

Published: Thu 31 Aug 2023, 6:18 PM

A UAE book publishing house, The Dreamwork Collective, has been selected for the 8th edition of the Book Adaptation Rights Market as part of the forthcoming 80th Venice International Film Festival at the Venice Lido, when it is besieged by actors, journalists and paparazzi.

Every year professionals in the global film industry hunt for books that work well for screen adaptations. Turning a novel into a film script and then again into a blockbuster or maybe an art film is always a challenging yet mysterious process that requires many steps and not only a high dose of creativity. And even though some stories remain better expressed in writing than on screen, we’ve all watched great movies based on books.

Kira Jean
Kira Jean

Organised by Venice Production Bridge, the Book Adaptation Rights Market will gather 34 international publishers and literary agencies, including Penguin Random House UK, Hachette Livre, Mondadori Group, and The Dreamwork Collective. They will meet film directors and producers to share their knowledge and discuss potential deals at the luxurious Excelsior Hotel from September 1-3. We sat down with Kira Jean, founder, and CEO of The Dreamwork Collective, an all-women, independent publishing house headquartered in Dubai. Kira, born in Tasmania, Australia, has lived in Dubai since 2013.

one-to-one meetings BOOK ADAPTATION RIGHTS MARKET. Photo: La Biennale di Venezia/Andrea Pattaro
one-to-one meetings BOOK ADAPTATION RIGHTS MARKET. Photo: La Biennale di Venezia/Andrea Pattaro

Edited excerpts from an interview:

Your publishing house will participate in the Book Adaptation Rights Market during the Venice International Film Festival. How did the selection take place?

We were part of the Emirates Publisher's Association delegation at the London International Book Fair this year, where we got the chance to learn about the Book Adaptation Rights Market. We submitted a list of our titles that we believed would make the strongest case for adaptation and be of interest to the festival. Lucky for us, we were selected amongst a chosen few publishers from around the world.

Every year the Book Adaptation Rights Market highlights a literary genre. This year it will be Children's and Young Adult Literature. Do you have specific books in mind?

We specialise in young adult and women's fiction, and therefore we will present titles such as the bestselling novel, The End of Summer by Salha Al Busaidy and Before You Loved Me by Samantha Gregson, our newest title and releases on September 26, 2023. We will also present Becoming a Legend by Emirati sportsperson and Head Coach of the UAE women's national football team, Houriya Al Taheri. With a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the Fifa Women's World Cup this year, we expect Houriya's story to be a hit at the festival.

Will you propose your entire film adaptation catalogue or focus on specific books?

The programme uniquely allows us to present our entire catalogue.

No other publishing companies from the Gulf countries are among the 34 chosen to participate in the event. What does this opportunity mean to you and your team?

It is a wonderful opportunity for us to share the full range of diverse voices and powerful stories we're publishing in the UAE. This special occasion means a lot to us at The Dreamwork Collective. For the past seven years, we've been working incredibly hard to put UAE authors on the map globally. Representing them at such a prestigious global event is an honour we take very seriously. We see it as a huge step forward towards introducing the powerful stories we publish in the Emirates to the screen. We are thrilled to represent the region's best writing talent as we meet renowned filmmakers and producers at this year's Venice Film Festival.

Has your publishing company ever collaborated with the film industry before?

We regularly produce short book trailers for our novels, and recently one of our children's books series, Alfie & Oak, was animated for Emirates Airlines' in-flight entertainment; however, our goal in attending the Venice International Film Festival is to secure the first of many book-adaptation deals.

You will meet the cinema producers registered for the Venice International Film Festival through one-to-one meetings at the Excelsior Hotel on the Lido di Venezia. Will the primary goal be to make a deal on adapting one of your books for the screen or fostering relationships and future collaborations?

The goal is to make a deal on adapting one of our books for the screen; however, fostering relationships for future collaborations will be very important.

Who are the producers and film directors you dream of working with?

On the list of attendees are several filmmakers from the region as well, so I am particularly interested in meeting with them to understand the role we can play in the broader industry as we, as a company, are heavily focused on film adaptations. I am referring to the directors from Doha Film Institute, Cinewaves Studios, and Cercamon, which is headquartered in Dubai. At this moment, a Netflix deal is every author's dream! For us, our vision is to nurture and grow the creative economy in the UAE. As a women-founded and led publishing house, our dream would be to work with the best female producers and film directors in the country to create a box office hit that resonates globally.

Can you tell us more about your publishing house?

We are women-founded and led and are dedicated to sharing diverse voices and powerful stories with the world. We publish locally, distribute globally, and support emerging writers in the region through courses, writing coaching, and book events. We have been in business for almost seven years. In that time, we have hosted book launches and events in some of the world’s largest cities, such as London, Johannesburg, and New York City. Our mission has always been to represent the region’s best writing talent abroad and help our writer’s work reach a global audience.

Why did you pick that name?

Before the age of thirty, one of my closest childhood friends passed away. In her last message to me, she shared how sad she was that she hadn't pursued her writing dreams. Sadly, the stories she had written were never released publicly. This fact inspired me to help others fulfill their dream of becoming an author. Through experience, I knew that the pursuit of anything creative came with many challenges, so if we were going to be successful, we needed an army; a community; a collective. So, The Dreamwork Collective was born.

How did you fall in love with the publishing industry?

I started my career as a child and family therapist, but my childhood consisted of dance classes, music lessons, and book clubs. Until today, my parents are still begging me to clean out my old books from under the house. I can't bear to throw a book away, more so now that I know what it takes to make one! Initially, I had a love-hate relationship with the publishing industry. I would get frustrated by all the processes shrouded in mystery, and it left me feeling like we would struggle to break into the global industry. Yet, today here we are, about to embark on an adventure at Venice International Film Festival to hopefully inspire readers, writers, and publishers in the UAE for years to come.

What are your most successful publications?

Our most successful publication to date is the one that's very close to our heart, The Secret Life of Dubai's Street Cats. The book has sold nearly 90,000 copies and will be front and centre at the Venice International Film Festival this year. Dream Du'a Do and Big Little Steps, both written for young Muslim women, have had international success and have been translated into multiple languages.

Are there publishers participating in this Venice event that you consider an inspiration?

To be honest, we truly beat to the rhythm of our own drum. The publishing industry is unique in the UAE, which comes with its own set of challenges. However, it has also allowed us to innovate based on what readers in the region genuinely want from us as a publisher.

What do you expect from the Venice outing?

We'll return to Dubai with a better understanding of what filmmakers and producers are looking for and be a better publisher for it. We'll be able to tailor the books we publish to suit what the industry is missing while providing them with the diversity in storytelling that is so desperately needed. I have no doubt that we will return with newfound inspiration and clarity for what the next chapter looks like at The Dreamwork Collective.

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