Dubai program has Arab outfits thinking locally

Film Connection gives works-in-progress a push

Complete Dubai fest coverage

DUBAI -- In only its second year, the Dubai Film Connection appears to be gaining momentum in its drive to introduce Arab filmmakers to film funds, sales companies and distributors from around the world.

The arrival of two new DFC sponsors -- Desert Door Prods. from Kuwait and Bahrain Film Production -- signals growing interest among Arabs to support the would-be local heroes of cinema who are trying to turn their works-in-progress into finished films.

Perhaps this is natural considering DFC organizer and DIFF Industry Office head Jane Williams' short but successful track record.

The Sundance Film Festival recently selected Palestinian director Cherien Dabis' 2007 DFC film "Amreeka," and Disney has embarked on its first film in Arabic, "The Last of the Storytellers," which Lebanese director and DFC veteran Chadi Zeineddine pitched at DIFF in 2006.

"Jane and DFC have been very clever bringing big international names to Dubai who used to come and say, 'Oh, we know what you Arabs need,' " Zeineddine said. "By showing these visitors a good time and introducing them to those of us with real stories to tell, they now end up staying to do business."

The international players arriving as DFC guests as the fifth annual Dubai International Film Festival began Thursday included such sales companies as Fortissimo Films, Celluloid Dreams and Match Factory, agents including Bryan Besser and Elia Infanscelli-Smith from Endeavor, and producers like Danny Glover, whose company has exhibited active interest in Arab cinema with its backing of "Salt of the Sea." Also participating again are the Producers Network from the Cannes Film Market and ARTE of France.

For Amsterdam-based Williams, the process of getting an Arab filmmaker into a deal begins in May when she accepted 108 proposals from 25 countries and 108 directors, all Arab or of Arab descent.

"Producers can be from anywhere," she said. "This year, it's important to note that our reach has grown. We've seen a rise in submissions from the Magreb region of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia."

By October, Williams and DIFF managing director Shivani Pandya had chosen the 21 finalists for 2008 with help from their six-member selection committee, including Antoine Khalife of Unifrance.

The chosen projects were advertised on the DFC Web site, and Williams and her team set up meetings for the directors and producers well in advance of the festival's start.

"It's sort of a CineMart," she said, referring to the Rotterdam Film Festival's long-standing project matching service. "We do everything for the filmmakers so that, at a series of social events at the festival, they can relax and meet everybody."

Zeineddine's 2008 DFC project "Barbershop Trinity," produced by L.A.-based Oulid Mass, is a tragicomedy about three grown sons of a Palestinian Christian barber who struggle to balance their own dreams with the legacy of their father upon his death.

"I am so passionate about my work and Dubai is the best place for me to come to convey that passion," Zeineddine said.

The 21 films chosen will vie for three DIFF-sponsored awards of $25,000 each (formerly $15,000 each), a new $25,000 prize from Desert Door, a €6,000 ($7,944) prize from ARTE in France and a new work-in-progress prize from Bahrain Film Production of $10,000.