Filmmakers look at Middle East pros, cons

Censorship, insurance among pitfalls, panel says

LONDON -- The Middle East might be cash rich, but filmmakers looking to tap the well face huge obstacles including regional violence, censorship and practical concerns like insurance, a panel of experts said Monday.

Speaking at an industry event at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts here Monday, filmmakers bemoaned the lack of freedom of speech in territories across the region such as Lebanon, Egypt, Dubai and Iraq.

But producer-director Philippe Aractingi, whose Lebanese film "Under the Bombs" screened as part of the BAFTA four-day event, told an intimate gathering that that censorship was only one problem.

"It's not that difficult to shoot in Lebanon," Aractingi said. "But insurance companies are worried when it comes to shooting there. Our (Lebanese) way of seeing risk is totally different to the Western minds in terms of production."

Filmmaker Amin Matalqa, who shot his movie "Captain Abu Raed" in Jordan and went on to win prizes at the Dubai International Film Festival, also bemoaned the lack of support from Arab audiences at the boxoffice.

"Arab audiences don't want films from local filmmakers, they just want Hollywood blockbusters," Matalqa said. "Arab audiences don't deserve them if that's their attitude."

He cited his own experience, which saw his film secure prizes in Dubai yet failed to ignite the local boxoffice.

But despite the doom and gloom, reps from Dubai and the Royal Film Commission of Jordan still urged filmmakers to check it out.

RFC Jordan production guru George David said that censorship laws are easing and, as long as filmmakers can prove material is necessary for the filming, "it can shoot in Jordan."

Dubai International Film Festival managing director Shivani Pandya said that her organization has "made a concerted effort to steer away from political content" when looking at attracting filmmakers to the state.

"We have tried to stay away from the political (world) and stay neutral," she said. "We have turned down a few scripts (as a result)."