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Quality ‘will decide funding for films’ (27/10/2011)

A panel of filmmakers, producers and distributors have shared their views on some of the issues involved in financing film projects, particularly for aspiring Arab independent filmmakers.

Film industry expert Thomas Garvin said aspiring filmmakers must first take a critical assessment of themselves and their projects before seeking funding. It is important for independent filmmakers in the Mena region not to ignore the diverse history and stories of their home countries when looking for a subject, as a film project that is “grounded” with a good story and a unique angle is the greatest selling point for any film. Filmmakers who ignore this will not only struggle to find funding, but will also have difficulty in distributing their movies. Films with universal themes and a human story about human conditions are more likely to attract interest, as well as unique stories and subjects.
Garvin said that there is a common misconception that American movie goers and distributors are inherently biased against Middle Eastern films and filmmakers. While he admits that commercial films dominate the market, there is no regional bias as the primary motivation for film distributors is profit. Film distributors have no incentive to promote culture and will work with any movie that they think will be successful from a financial perspective. While American movie audiences favour English language films, a number of foreign language blockbusters have proved that there is no absolute rule, and quality can indeed win out in the end.
German film producer and distributor Irit Neidhardt said  Germany is one of the important sources of funding for independent filmmakers, even though the country’s box office sales are relatively low. However, she said that it is common for Arab filmmakers to mistake the offer of loans to finance film projects as grants or gifts. Many of the loans, or grants, given to filmmakers by the German government come with terms and conditions that restrict the actual location for production of the film to certain parts of Germany, as the loans are part of an economic development programme.
In Germany, Neidhardt says that preconceived notions of Arabs and Muslims by movie goers often have an affect on film distribution and box office success, particularly films that show the day to day family life of Arabs. Due to this fact, she said that it was a surprise that the film Caramel, which focuses on the family lives and trials of Lebanese women, was such a success in the country, as the most successful film prior to that was Paradise Now, a film about Palestinian suicide bombers.

Lebanese producer and distributor Georges Schoucair said that four main sources of funding in the Middle East, particularly in the GCC, are relatively new, as most filmmakers previously relied on private equity. Television networks such as ART have also begun to finance movie projects, while Al Jazeera is funding documentaries. Schoucair is concerned, however, that the recent revolutions across the Middle East have postponed this development, as networks struggle to secure and redefine themselves.
Another complication for Arab filmmakers, said Shoucair, is the fragmentation of the Arab film market. A popular Lebanese film may not be as successful in the Gulf countries, providing an additional challenge for filmmakers and distributors looking for commercial success.

Shoucair is trying to establish an independent distribution company in Lebanon to promote local filmmaking as well as foreign independent films, and cites the fact that the post-production for his latest project was done in Qatar, as an example for regional film development.

Ross Jackson - Staff Reporter // www.gulf-times.com