Paradigm makes push in Middle East

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COMPLETE DUBAI FEST COVERAGE

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- There's a new paradigm emerging at the Dubai International Film Festival -- and an American talent agency, aptly named Paradigm, is trying to play a key role in the development.

The Beverly Hills-based agency already vaunts a close relationship with the festival hierarchy and is using the fourth edition of the event to facilitate connections between American and Arab filmmakers -- and the moneymen on both sides of the world who can help get projects made.

The talent agency reps have been coming to Dubai for the past three years and originally discovered the Palestinian movie "Paradise Now" here, going on to represent the two key Mideast actors in that foreign-language Oscar-nominated film.

That Paradigm rather than the other Hollywood heavyweight talent agencies is front and center here may also be inspired by the fact that company president and CEO Sam Gores is of Israeli origin, speaks fluent Arabic and has often returned to the region.

This year Gores left it to his motion picture financing agents Norm Aladjem and Andrew Ruf to do the honors. They sponsored a lunch Wednesday in the main festival complex to bring together regional helmers and producers as well as a sprinkling of Arab-American filmmakers with projects or finished films in the various sections of the fest.

"We're here to provide a forum for regional producers and directors," Aladjem told The Hollywood Reporter. "It's not about coming away with signing talent so much as helping talents get their movies made and financed. It is in fact the mission of the agency to embrace this part of the world."

Aladjem also said that the Hollywood agency had been meeting with "regional sources of financing," but declined to be more specific. He did say he believed that the desire among Mideast investment sources to fund Hollywood pictures was as strong now as it was a few years ago. (Other U.S. talent agencies have made similar treks to the region, though not specifically during the Dubai festival, which runs Dec. 9-16.)

Among the latter was New York-based director Sherien Dabis, whose short set in Ramallah, "Make a Wish," copped the shorts prize at last year's fest. This year she's trying to put together the last tranche of funding for a feature called "Amrika," about the Arab-American experience in the U.S.

Most of the 75-odd guests were young, and most engaged in animated discussion with one another during the stand-up lunch complete with fruity cocktails and exotic finger food.

The main theme emerging at the Dubai fest is the desire among young Arab talent, be it locally grown or originating in the immigrant community in the states, to dispel the stereotypes about them that dominate the global media and offer a fresh, more authentic vision.

"There is no U.S. presence to speak of in the cinema for these Arab voices," Ruf pointed out, adding that Paradigm is here for "outreach," and "to help the emirate build its own industry."

The Paradigm reps will make a visit to Dubai Studio City to see the progress of sound stages and other facilities which are being constructed by the local regime of Sheik Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.

In their prepared remarks Wednesday, Aladjem and Ruf put the emphasis on Paradigm's and their own roles as "ambassadors" to help build bridges between Hollywood and the gulf region, a comment that echoes the festival's official theme of "Bridging cultures, changing minds."

The Paradigm lunch took place under the auspices of the fest's Film Connection initiative, a first effort to bring financing sources to bear on the projects of regional filmmakers.

Paradigm was hardly the only American company making the Dubai scene.

Turns out a handful of American foreign film distributors and sales agents -- Cinetic Media's John Sloss, Voltage's Nick Chartier, QED's Bill Block, Velvet Octopus' Michael Cowan, and Yari's David Glaser -- have been spotted at the trendy Koubba bar or elsewhere. Word is several of them were flown here by local distributor Gulf to demonstrate its growing openness to release indie films from the U.S. in the region.
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