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Arab Cinema Could Collapse Completely, Abu Dhabi Festival Attendees Hear

Abu Dhabi Skyline

Middle East turmoil and Arab TV stations not buying films are creating a perfect storm for filmmakers facing already difficult conditions.

Abu Dhabi – Yousry Nasrallah, the Egyptian director whose film After the Battle played In Competition during the Festival de Cannes, says Arab film sector faces collapse due to Middle East turmoil and Arab TV stations not buying films.

Egyptian feature filmmaking has dried up completely since the country's president Murbarak was overthrown last year and Saudi-owned TV broadcasters Rotana and ART have stopped buying films, Nasrallah said.

The director made his dire prediction during an Arab filmmaker panel at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Nasrallah said: “We are witnessing a crisis that could lead to a breakdown. It’s a perfect storm. Saudi broadcasters such as Rotana and ART have a monopoly on buying Arab movie rights and they have thousands of movies stockpiled. They don’t need to buy any more."

Fellow panellist Egyptian screenwriter Mohamed Hefzy said the political crisis means he now has to work outside of the country.

Other filmmakers taking part in the discussion complained about political and social pressures stopping them from working.

Director Bader Ben Hirsi, whose feature A New Day In Old Sana’a was the first local feature to be shot in Yemen, said opponents spread lies about him shooting sex scenes in mosques because they were so determined to shut production down.

Ben Hirsi hopes to start shooting his second feature in Yemen in January, but the political situation is so dangerous he cannot find production insurance.

And Iraqi director Mohamed Al-Daradji said he had to dodge both US tanks and Al-Qaeda insurgents making his first feature in Iraq after the American invasion of 2003.

Previously Al-Daradji has claimed that Al-Qaeda insurgents kidnapped him during the filming of Ahlaam. He was then handed over to the U.S. military which held him for six days.

"Even if you are kidnapped by Al-Qaeda or imprisoned by Americans, nothing should stop you [making your film]. That’s why I say there are no walls which you cannot break through," Al-Daradji said.

Al-Daradji told attendees that Iraq had no film industry infrastructure, which means footage has to be smuggled through Syria and Lebanon for processing. The war has also left Iraq without any cinemas, he explained.

"We don’t have the infrastructure that exists in Morocco, Egypt or the Gulf states," he said. "We have to lay the foundations for filmmaking in Iraq. Only then will we have an Iraqi cinema that exists in 20 years’ time."

Abu Dhabi-based director Nawaf Al-Janahi, whose sophomore film Sea Shadow premiered at last year’s ADFF, said he sympathised with infrastructure problems faced in Iraq and Yemen.

When he started out Abu Dhabi had no filmmaking infrastructure either, he said.

Al-Janahi’s family did everything they could to persuade him not to become a filmmaker. Even after he got into film school in Egypt, his father refused to pay the fees.

“My father was trying to make me understand that there was no filmmaking industry in the UAE at the time,” said Al-Janahi.

"Critics say that filmmakers in Gulf states are spoilt and pampered. They think we all have oil wells in our houses."

Nasrallah and Al-Daradji agreed that although feature films employ large crews essentially the director remains on his own.

Nasrallah said: "We don’t make movies alone but we do dream them alone." Al-Daradji added: "We long to include others in our dreams."