Dialogue: Shivani Pandya

The DIFF's managing director talks about raising Dubai's global profile

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Shivani Pandya has been with the Dubai International Film Festival from its origin as an ambitious concept to the globally recognized event it is today. Pandya oversees marketing and operations for the fest and has been key to encouraging a film industry in the United Arab Emirates. She spoke to Jolanta Chudy for The Hollywood Reporter about the success of the festival and its role in Dubai's master plan to become a center for film in the region.

The Hollywood Reporter: How are you going to build on the past success of DIFF this year?
Shivani Pandya: This year we've launched an initiative within the Industry Office called the Dubai Connection. We've identified 15 projects from 100 international entries (with Arab origin) we would look at helping and encouraging. We've done it in two steps: the festival is happy to showcase the projects, and (we'll help) get them onto the next stage by giving them some sort of financial grant assistance.

THR: What are the biggest challenges for a festival in a region with a film industry in such infancy?
Pandya: Given that we're such a young festival, we've got everybody looking at us, not just in the UAE. There's a big buzz about the Middle East; Arab films are really in at the moment. I think we're better known in the industry overseas than here, which is great, but the downside is you have to deliver. The biggest issue for us is that we're a very ambitious festival -- that's Dubai for you. (With) the expectations that the industry has, that the audience has, there's very little room to make a mistake.

THR: Do you think having a festival and facilities is enough to create a credible film industry from scratch?
Pandya: I think there are a lot of different aspects; service is one, but talent is also very important. It's like Media City (a tax-free zone set up by the Dubai government to attract media organizations): When we came in, there was nothing but sand, and people were very skeptical. Now over 200 stations broadcast from here. I feel a similar thing will happen in the film industry. The size of the Middle East market is very small compared to the rest of the world, but the rate of growth is very high. Before, what was happening was negligible, but people are now looking at this region. With the festival we can create an appreciation for films, for art house (films), for foreign-language films, and that helps to inculcate a film culture.

THR: What is your vision for the festival?
Pandya: We're showcasing excellence in cinema, and as time goes by we're going to keep expanding our horizons. We started by showcasing Arab cinema; that had lots of programrs coming in from other festivals and taking our selections abroad. We're still a small team most of the time; we're eight or nine and we go up to 200 staff and 700 volunteers during the festival. It's all about passion and loving films. We're a not-for-profit cultural event but we've enjoyed 200% growth -- I don't know if Dubai is growing that fast. Are we competing with the buildings going up?