DFC offers fresh takes on ME maelstrom – Dubai Int’l Film Fest build bridges to awards organization

LOS ANGELES, Dec 2, (RTRS): Prominent Syrian auteur Mohamed Malas (“Ladder To Damascus”) is among the thirteen Arab film directors that have made the cut to tap into the funding and networking opportunities provided by the Dubai fest’s Dubai Film Connection co-production platform.

Malas who is considered Syria’s best-known filmmaker, has depicted conflicts in the region in many of his works. During the DFC he will be talking up his next feature “Zero One One,” a wartime romancer set in present-day Damascus.

“Zero One One” is described in promotional materials as the story of Narrange, a young woman fresh out of imprisonment, where she was raped, and Youssef, a filmmaker who had previously been in a relationship with another woman but refused to migrate with her.

This year’s DFC projects are an especially promising batch comprising conflict-related works and regionally-rooted social dramas which appear to provide fresh angles and new takes on the maelstrom of Middle East life.

Lebanon is repped by two projects: “Costa Brava” a first feature set amid Lebanon’s never-ending garbage crisis, directed by Mounia Akl, who studied film at Columbia University; and Beirut-set “Dirty, Difficult, Dangerous” by Wissam Charaf and Hala Dabaji, described as an unlikely love affair between an Ethiopian housemaid and a Syrian refugee who find solace in each other through their respective struggles.

There are three projects from Morocco: Mohamed El Aboudi’s “School of Hope,” about a nomad tribe in Morocco’s Atlas Mountains struggling to get education for its children; “It’s Faraway Where I Must Go,” about the collective memory and identity of Moroccan immigrants in Belgium, by Belgium-born Karima Saudi; and Anwar Boulifa’s “The Unwanted,” which explores the social stigma that women who fall pregnant outside of wedlock endure in Morocco.

Two are from Tunisia: the ironically titled “God Bless Buddies,” about six men nearing their fifities, who’ve known each other since high-school and reunite to split up some land they’d collectively bought, co-directed by Lotfi Achour and Anissa Daoud; and “The Syrians,” a creative documentary by Mohamed Ismail Louti about displaced Syrians living in Lebanon.

Italian/Iraqi Director Haider Rashid will be pitching “Europa,” set in a forest between Turkey and Bulgaria where armed so-called “Migrant Hunters” have captured a Syrian refugee who manages to escape; Egyptian-American director Kasem Kharsa will be presenting “I Dreamt Of Empire,” in which a brilliant Egyptian professor time-travels back to the 1956 Suez Crisis War to try and prevent his son from being killed.

London-based Palestinian visual artist Larissa Sansour will be at DFC tubthumping “In Vitro” which is described as a post-apocalyptic Arabic-language feature-length art film combining science fiction, CGI, live action and historical footage.

Conceal

Jordanian writer and producer Bassel Ghandour (“Theeb”) will unveil his first feature “The Alleys,” about a hustling taxi driver who is trying to conceal a forbidden romance in a heavily populated East Amman neighborhood where gossip and violence rule.

UAE-born Sudanese filmmaker will be pitching “You Will Die At Twenty,” which is set in a Sudanese village where a woman gives birth to a boy who becomes saddled with a Dervish prophecy.

Besides cash prizes totalling more than $60,000, five participating Arab producers have a shot at getting complimentary accreditation to the Producers Network at Cannes. Up to two DFC projects will also be invited to the Sorfond Pitching Forum, held during the 2018 Films from the South Festival in Oslo.

The awards from supporting institutions include EUR5,000 from France’s Centre National du Cinema (CNC); $10,000 from the Arab Radio and Television (ART); $10,000 from Hideaway Entertainment; $10,000 from Cinescape/Front Row; and $25,000 from the Dubai fest. The 14th edition of the Dubai International Film Festival will run Dec 6-13.

The Dubai Intl. Film Festival from its outset has always focused on doing “anything we can to help promote Arab cinema all over the world,” says the fest’s managing director Shivani Pandya. That means outreach during awards season.

This year, DIFF upped its Oscar game after forming a selection committee approved by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, making the UAE eligible to submit a film for the foreign-language Oscar.

In the end the country did not do so because pickings among locally released Emirati features were too slim.

Pandya and Dubai’s top brass began establishing a rapport with the Academy in 2013 and have strengthened ties since then, hosting former AMPAS president Cheryl Boone Isaacs at the fest last year. For the upcoming edition the fest has booked Isaacs’ successor, John Bailey, to make the trek and hold several panels.

Last year DIFF began building bridges with the Golden Globes, presenting two Arabic films for consideration in the foreign-language film category. The fest renewed efforts with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. this year by promoting Egyptian political thriller “The Preacher” (“Mawlana”), by veteran helmer Magdi Ahmed Ali, and Lebanese drama “Tramontane,” a first feature by Vatche Boulghourjian for Globes consideration.

“We’ve strategically been speaking to various organizations,” says Pandya, who has also forged close ties with Britain’s BAFTA Awards; the British Film Institute recently selected three Arab features for the BFI London Film Festival. “All we are trying to do is help Arab films get recognition.”

Also:

LOS ANGELES: Japanese animation productions major Toei Animation is teaming up with Saudi Arabia’s Manga Productions to produce animation titles and films to be released in both countries. The new tie-up was unveiled Nov 16.

Manga Productions, which is affiliated with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s MiSK Foundation, focuses on producing animations and developing video games with creative and positive content targeting different local and international social groups.

Bukhari Isam, CEO of Manga Productions, said that his company will do pre-production or prepare designing content to be produced in Japan. The productions will be internationally targeted.

Shinji Shimizu, the managing director of Toei Animation, said that the company was proud to be working with Manga Productions and that the partnership would create quality titles that respect both countries’ cultures. (RTRS)

The first joint production is titled “The Woodcutter’s Treasure,” a 20-minute animation based on Saudi Arabian folklore. Production is complete on Arabic and Japanese versions, and teasers for both versions have been released. The official release date of “The Woodcutter’s Treasure” has not been announced yet, but it will air on TV in Saudi Arabia and in Japan.

The team is also producing a 90-minute animation and 13 episodes of the folklore series.

 

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