Dubai's first film market draws 450

Buyers 'very interested in Arabic cinema,' director says

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DUBAI -- The long list of delegates attending this week's first Dubai Film Market might easily be confused for the reservation chart at popular Beverly Hills industry eatery the Grill.

Among the 450 registered guests for the inaugural go-round, which kicked off Thursday, are Summit Entertainment's Patrick Wachsberger, Paramount director of co-productions and acquisitions Alexei Boltho, 2929 Entertainment's Shebnem Askin, Celluloid Dreams international sales executive Vincent La Treis and Brennan Wrenn of SBS Broadcasting.

"Foreign buyers are very interested in Arabic cinema," market director Ziad Yaghi said. "With the state of the economy, not everyone can travel to Europe or other destinations for film markets, so the market also serves as a platform for people to meet here."

Indeed, the new market serves a dual function of providing a dedicated film market for the Middle East and North African regions, which has been lacking until now, while expanding upon the festival's role in helping to develop a regional film industry.

Instead of booths, a state-of-the-art digital screening facility, the Cinetech, has been set up to screen the 211 participating titles. The facility allows viewers to watch the films in private booths, pull up information on the production, send a message to the film's representative and put in an online request for a screener.

This year's selection includes 137 films playing at the festival; 23 films which screened at the Gulf Film Festival, Dubai and 51 market screenings – or films playing here on the Cinetech system only. The titles hail from 64 countries, with about 80 films coming from the Middle East and another 30 productions coming from Africa.

Titles screening include Darren Aronofsky's Oscar contender "The Wrestler," Nour-Eddine Lakhmari's Moroccan feature "Casanegra" and the edgy Che Guevara documentary "Chevolution."

The market also offers match-making services between potential buyers and sellers as well as a market lounge where participants can find distraction in a 3-D television playing in the lounge.

"I think that Dubai will be the new center of the Arab and African film industries," said Arunrong Thirasak of Thailand's Phranakorn Films, who was testing out the screening facilities Thursday. "We are here to both buy and sell films and are finding it invaluable to come and see Dubai first hand. It is so funny, in Thailand, a film poster would also feature the stars of a film, but here they seem to show the villains."

"It means a lot for the region to gather all of the suppliers in one place," said Bassil H. Hajjar of Dubai's oldest distribution company, U.A.E. Film Distribution. "I am very impressed with the screening facilities. They are very sophisticated."

The film market is working in close connection with DIFF's Industry Office. While the Industry Office's focus is on films which have yet to be completed, the Dubai Film Market screens completed titles only.