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Doha Film Institute steps up docus and TV series grants

Doha Film Institute

Toei Animation teams with Saudi’s Manga Productions on ‘Journey’

LOS ANGELES, May 19, (RTRS): The Doha Film Institute, which is at Cannes as a co-financier of Elia Suleiman’s competition entry “It Must Be Heaven”, has announced the 37 projects receiving its Spring Grants, roughly half of them to be directed by women.

 The latest batch of mostly Arabic fare set to tap into support from the DFI, a key driver for Middle East filmmakers, will comprise a slew of documentaries and two TV series, which “reflects the type of content currently in demand from streamers,” said DFI director of financing Hanaa Issa.

 TV series represent a new strand of funding for the DFI, initiated with the previous grants cycle. The standout TV project is “Faraya”, a series presented by emerging Lebanese helmers Nadim Tabet (“One of These Days”) and Mounia Akl (“Beirut, I Love You”). It’s about “an inexperienced police officer investigating the death of a cleaning lady at a high-end ski Lebanese resort whose poor judgment triggers a series of violent events,” according to the synopsis. The production company is Beirut-based Abbout Productions.

 DFI CEO Fatma Al Remaihi said plenty of submissions for TV projects have been coming in, prompting “a debate within our funding committee about how much should be allocated for TV series versus film,” adding that they will not set quotas for film and TV and that their philosophy of “quality and merit” will stay the same.

 Issa noted that Netflix, MUBI, Amazon and Vimeo all attended the DFI’s Qumra workshop this year, adding that she hoped streamers would get involved in their TV projects during next year’s edition.

 She also said that the volume of documentaries at this grants session – roughly half of the feature-length works – makes for congenial content for streamers, just like TV series. The docs include “Fouledh”, by young Tunisian directors Mehdi Hmili and Abdallah Chamekh (pictured), about working conditions in Tunisia’s biggest steel mill.

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LOS ANGELES: In an industry-building effort for Saudi Arabia, new Saudi animation studio Manga Productions has teamed up with Japan’s Toei Animation on a $10 million to $15 million animation feature titled “The Journey”, an epic based on Saudi folklore to be directed by Shizuno Kobun, whose credits include “Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle”.

Manga and Toei will collaborate on the pre-production and creation of story and the character design with Japanese and Saudi artists working together, they said in a joint statement.

The co-production stems from a pact between the two companies made in November 2017, one month before Saudi Arabia lifted its 35-year ban on cinemas.

“’The Journey’ is a milestone project for Manga,” said Manga Productions CEO Bukhary Essam, who is at Cannes with members of the Manga creative team.

“What we are doing here with ‘The Journey’ is representative of our larger role in creating an ecosystem throughout Saudi Arabia and the Arab world in which young talents are given opportunities and are supported, and high-quality work representing our culture is produced,” he added.

Toei Animation managing director Shinji Shimizu said it was “a great honor to cooperate in making Saudi Arabia’s very first animation film based on the history and culture of ancient Arabia.”

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LOS ANGELES: Mumbai production outfit Azure Entertainment is powering up a slate of remakes of European and Asian movies. These include a retread of 2017 Thai hit “Bad Genius” and an Indian version of South Korea’s “The Terror: Live”.

Azure is collaborating with Reliance Entertainment and Neeraj Pandey-led Friday Film Works’ Plan C Studio on the development and production of “Genius”. The film, which focuses on a female student who monetizes her skill at exam-cheating, was Thailand’s highest-grossing movie in international markets. Azure is presenting and producing Tigmanshu Dhulia’s “Yaara”, based on Olivier Marchal’s “Les Lyonnais”.

These are in addition to a previously announced two-film partnership with Warner Bros that kicks off with a remake of Hong Kong’s “Infernal Affairs”, which was remade by Martin Scorsese as “The Departed”. Rights were acquired from Warner.

Set up by Sunir Kheterpal, who previously had stints with Adlabs-Reliance Entertainment and the Hinduja Group, Azure is owned by The Three Sisters: Institutional Office. Its 2019 releases include two blockbusters, Sujoy Ghosh’s “Badala” and Anurag Singh’s “Kesari”.


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