Festival season is in full flow. October saw the Abu Dhabi and Doha Tribeca events bring the usual host of screenings to the region, including the premier of one of the region’s biggest money productions to date, the Tarak Ben Amaar-produced Black Gold, in Doha. Meanwhile we’re now gearing up for the Gulf’s longest standing event, the Dubai International Film Festival, in December.
In the run up to last year’s DIFF, a poll on www.digitalproductionme.com saw 40 per cent of our readers claim that the festival was ‘fun for a few days, but really it’s just a chance to get a load of celebrities in town’, while a further 30 per cent opined that the festival’s marketing budget would be better spent on funding the local industry.
Granted, it’s a small sample, but film makers, too have questioned the long-term benefits of the region’s burgeoning festival scene.
While no one seems to doubt the overall positives of the events in terms of raising cinema’s profile in the region, there sometimes seems to be a degree of frustration that the festivals are seen too much as an end in themselves, and that the films they support are seen as finished when they screen, rather than when they leave the realms of the festival and are shared with audiences all over the region and the world.
We’re pleased then this month to speak to DIFF’s MD, Shivani Pandya, and the director of Dubai Film Connection Jane Williams, and hear about how they feel the festival is offering real, long-term and sustainable opportunities to the region’s film makers and helping Arab cinema to enter the international consciousness like never before.
The region may not yet have produced its own Avatar, but there’s no doubt that the local industry is on the up. The industry is still young - even DIFF is still only in its eighth year - but with the efforts of organisations like DIFF, twofour54, ImageNation and more, it seems that the infrastructure is finally falling into place to allow Arab production to compete on a global level.