Weinstein promotes local culture at MEIFF


ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Harvey Weinstein on Monday opened the inaugural Film Financing Circle at the first Middle East International Film Festival with a litany of do's and dont's for potential international film investors -- with caution being the operative word throughout.

The Weinstein Co. co-chief was joined onstage by Loeb & Loeb partner and longtime friend Craig Emanuel to discuss the state of international co-productions before an audience of high-level industry leaders.

Weinstein spoke of his interest in the region's emerging film industry and warned against what he described as "westernizing" productions. It is important to recognize local culture, he said, citing "Life Is Beautiful" as an example of a successful co-production in which foreign language and culture had been made accessible to a largely English-speaking audience. "If it's great, it travels," he said. But, he added, "The subject matter has to remain compelling on a local level."

Weinstein and Emanuel advised local investors to be cautious about new productions.

"You have to be realistic," Weinstein said. "There are no guarantees, and the investor should always be conscientious of track records."

On a broader note, Weinstein said that a local film industry could be boosted by encouraging talent at the TV level. "Most of the British directors, Anthony Minghella for example, started at the BBC or on local television."

During the next three days, six InCircle Pearl finalists will present their projects to high-level industry panels, including Eden Rock Media president Thomas Augsberger and Foresight Unlimited's Mark Damon.

The FFC, an integral part of the festival, focuses on elevating the entertainment community's awareness of Abu Dhabi while providing networking opportunities for financiers and executives and exposing emerging talent to the experience. A winner will be chosen from six finalists at a televised gala closing ceremony Wednesday at the nearby Shangri-La Hotel, with the winner awarded $100,000.

MEIFF, which opened Sunday, runs through Friday.

"I'm delighted to have Harvey kick off the conference," FFC director Adrienne Briggs said as the festival got down to business after a glittering opening gala at the Emirates Palace Terrace.

"I'm confident (that) by the end of the FFC the motion-picture industry will recognize the potential Abu Dhabi has to become a leading film community in the Middle East."