MEIFF grants two victors


A surprise tie was announced Wednesday at the gala award ceremony of the Middle East International Film Festival's InCircle Pearl Grant competition. Rusudan Chkonia of the Republic of Georgia was awarded first place for her project "Keep Smiling," with Soman Chainani of the U.S. co-honored for his romantic comedy "Love Marriage."

The pair received their prize before an audience of international financiers, executives and decision-makers at a ceremony held on the poolside terrace of the recently completed Shangri-La Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

The winning filmmakers, drawn from a shortlist of six finalists, will receive a production grant significant enough to help fund their next films.

"I thought it was a bad sign when the jury said it was a 'good project' before the announcement, then suddenly I heard my name," Chkonia said in an interview.

The Georgia-set tragicomedy, which revolves around seven mothers and their battle against a corrupt beauty contest, already had garnered the young director acclaim at the Festival de Cannes.

"For me, to win this prize has a real meaning," she said. "Production in Georgia is really difficult. I was looking for production money, and after this grant, it's going to be easier."

Taking second place was Iranian-American filmmaker Kayvan Mashayekh, who received a $25,000 stipend awarded jointly by the MEIFF and Paul Kavanaugh's Relativity Media for "Batting for Palestine," his film about a Jewish minor-league baseball manager in Texas who recruits a Palestinian rock thrower as his ace pitcher.

The Film Financing Circle, a key component at MEIFF, provides a three-day networking and discussion opportunity for key players in the film industry as well as a chance for emerging filmmakers to be exposed to their expertise. The InCircle Pearl is a competitive pitch program created to expose emerging directors to high-level decision-makers and to facilitate financing for talented filmmakers.

Said FFC director Adrienne Briggs: "I'm ecstatic. There was an incredible dialogue between the executives and financiers and people in Abu Dhabi who are interested in film, and also the students who wanted to learn about film. I can't tell you the amount of meetings we've set up. Everyone's excited — and not just the executives but the local investors who finally have answers to their questions about so many different things like financial models."

Briggs said that a MEIFF dinner had raised more than $300,000 for the InCircle Film Lab, which will teach Emirati filmmakers writing and directing.