Gulf Films chief Salim Ramia tops A-list

As in Arabic cinema's most influential movers and shakers

BANGKOK -- Salim Ramia, chairman of Dubai-based Gulf Films, has again topped the list of the 50 most powerful people in Arab cinema published by Cairo-based Good News Cinema, the Middle East's most influential movie magazine.

However, Ramia, who is Lebanese and distributes more than 200 films across the region each year, is not a popular character with some in the industry, Alaa Karkouti, Good News' editor and publisher said Thursday.

"Ramia's not well liked because he often refuses to distribute Arabic films," said Karkouti, who compiles the list based on criteria including the number of projects each has going, the number of those distributed outside his or her own country and the tangible effect they've had on Arab film production.

Most names on the Top 50 list are not well known publicly but have a strong influence on moviemakers and moviegoers alike, said Karkouti, noting that the top three in 2009 are unchanged from 2008.

After Ramia, comes Ahmad Golchein, an Iranian who, in addition to working with Ramia, runs his own company distributing Iranian and Indian films across the Middle East. Holding at No. 3 is Abdulhamid Juma, chairman of the Dubai International Film Festival, which held its fifth edition in December.

Middle East International Film Festival boss Mohamed Khalaf Almazroui, of Abu Dhabi Heritage and Culture, moved up one spot from 2008 to No. 4, while King Mohamed VI of Morocco rounds out the top five.

The only head of state on the list, Morocco's king is directly supervising the growth of his country's cinema industry, and doing so with an open mind, Karkouti said, pointing to his funding of Laila Keelani's 2008 doc about Morocco's's prisions called "Our Forbidden Places."

"Not so long ago, this was unheard of in the Arab world -- the government funding a film about the state's dark past," Karkouti said.

Eight newcomers join the list this year.

Egyptian businessman Naguib Sawiris, at No. 23, opened new cinemas in Egypt a decade ago before selling them off. Now back on the list, Sawiris joined No. 24 Kamel Abu Ali in forming the production company Egypt for Cinema with an initial investment of 500 million Egyptian pounds ($90 million). The two will launch the new film festival Sharm el Sheikh in 2010 with a budget of $11 million.

At No. 25, Saudi Arabian producer Hadeel Kamel is the daughter of No. 32-ranked Sheikh Saleh Kamel, owner of the Arab Radio and Television network.

"They were producers of (the late Egyptian director) Yousef Chahine's last film and it's Hadeel, not her father, who is responsible for their involvement in about 30 films in the coming year," Karkouti said.

The first Qatari to make the list, at No. 31, is Mayassa Bint Hamad Al Thani, president of the Qatar Museums Authority, which will stage the first Doha Film Festival in November with the Tribeca Film Festival as its partner.

A dozen movers and shakers based in the United Arab Emirates, more than from any other territory, made the list, including four new names: American Edward Borgerding, executive director of Abu Dhabi-backed production company Imagenation, is at No. 17; Jane Williams, the Briton in charge of the industry office at the Dubai International Film Festival sits at No. 44; Adrian Briggs, director of the Circle film forum in Abu Dhabi takes No. 46; and twentysomething filmmaker Ali Mustafa, who will produce "Dar-al Hay" in the U.A.E. this year, is No. 47.

Good News Cinema prints 35,000 copies for Egypt and 22,000 copies for the Gulf countries and Jordan each month.