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DISPATCH FROM ABU DHABI | Winning Formula for New Mid East Fest

A scene from "In The Valley of Elah," which closed the Middle East International Film Festival.

Last May, when Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun al Nahyan and Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage announced the formation of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission to build a local film infrastructure and promote international investment -- with a vision of business and art meshing cultural and political differences to promote a film industry in Abu Dhabi -- the International festival community was met with another festival on its calendar. Abu Dhabi's first Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF) in the United Arab Emirates (October 14 - 19, 2007) leapt onto the circuit big time with a winning formula of big prizes, industry heavyweights and international programming.

After launching a film commission, film school and film fund, the fest was formed and the duo recruited established festival organizer Jon Fitzgerald, a veteran of Slamdance and AFI Fest to produce an event with an emphasis on the financial incentives and venture capital available to building a film infrastructure in Abu Dhabi. Fitzgerald's international team began to program and most importantly establish the first annual convention of the Film Financing Circle (FFC) -- an initiative to bring together filmmakers and film financiers from all over the world to Abu Dhabi. He was joined by LA producer Adrienne Briggs to tap industry insiders. Briggs opened up her little black book of contacts and convinced top-level executives to come and share their nknowledge with the Abu Dhabi investiment community and fledgling UAE producers, writers and directors. After the announcement of a major deal with Warner Bros., the International film business community knew that Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei was putting capital where it mattered.

Briggs organized an eye-raising assortment of powerbrokers to lend their expertise and ears, each hosted with first class airfare, all expenses paid at the seven star Emirates Palace hotel, not to mention the opportunity to meet with locals with checkbook power. An impressive list accepted the invitation to discuss finance and production including --- Croatian producer Branko Lusting ("Black Hawk Down," "Gladiator"), Warner Independent's Paul Federbush, Relativity Media's Ryan Kavanaugh ("The Pursuit of Happiness"), producer Deepak Nayar ("Lost Highway," "The End of Violence"), producer Nansun Shi, BBC Films' David Thompson, Al-Arabia's Isaad Younis, and Harvey Weinstein on board to deliver the keynote discussion.

Weinstein was a powerful role model of how to do business in the Arab World, telling the gathering, "Trust your investments with producers with a track record. We will look to make films that start local but have a universal appeal." Like the other participants in Abu Dhabi, Weinstein made ample use of the Emirates Palace, a three and a half billon dollar architectural wonder and site of all the Film Festival activities.

The programming team included Nancy Collet for International films. She put her emphasis on the festival's Intentional outreach including a four film Indian spotlight, a tribute to Spanish Director Carlos Saura and an in memoriam tribute to Africa film pioneer Ousame Sembene. Her selections also highlighted the political reality of the Middle East. To this end she and Fitzgerald's screened Brian De Palma's Venice award winner "Redacted," the Jake Gyllenhaal topped "Rendition," and Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah," a searing indictment of the American public's ignorance of the consequences of the invasion of Iraq.

Competition films were an international mix including films from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Demark, Cambodia, France, Austria/Germany, Morocco, Mexico and the U.S. Responsible for the Arab division was the well-known Egyptian critic Samir Farid. His selection spotlighted Amer Al Zuhar's controversial, Kuwaiti-banned documentary "When the People Spoke," about the face-off between the Muslin moderates and fundamentalists about gender equality and a woman's right to vote and hold political office in Kuwait. Also, the festival crowd-pleaser with western potential Farida Bourquia's "Two Women On the Road," about how two Muslim women, one very secular and one traditional, finding out what they have in common.

To give clout to Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei's desire to attract local talent to build a film infrastructure, Fitzgerald and Briggs created a master class Haggis, whose "Elah" closed the festival. Haggis pulled no punches as he took seriously his role to tell the truth about how to succeed in the film business.

"Unless you have a story to tell, all the money in the world will not make a difference," Haggis said, "Your script must be something that is authentic to your own experience. Do not try to replicate Hollywood movies, make a movie that is true to your own lives." He answered one would-be director's question about how to direct, saying, "You learn by doing all the aspects of filmmaking, you must understand what it means for example to be a grip. You do not start at the top. Nothing will help you realize your vision on a soundstage more than knowing how all aspects of directing a film works. Learn how to listen and to talk to your producer so as to not antagonize the relationship and still be true to your own self."

Abu Dhabi calls it self the richest city in the world and MEIFF brought together local investment capital with the CCF industry leaders. At the closing night gala a buzz of deals and business friendships fostered by the festival was the talk of the illuminati dancing and eating the night away.

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3 Comments

  • jimfour | November 1, 2007 6:41 AMReply

    MIDDLE EAST INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Abu Dhabi 0ct 14-19

    Here is the full text of my report from the first MIDDLE EAST INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL held in Abu Dhabi U.A.E. October 14th -19th, A quite condensed version appeared in Indiewire's On The Scene



    Last May when Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoun al Nahyan

    Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei, Director General of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage announced the formation of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission to build a local film infrastructure and promote international investment opportunity for world wide producers and production companies, with a vision of business and art meshing cultural and political differences to promote a film industry in Abu Dhabi, the International festival community added one more festival to its calendar,



    Al-Mazrouei meant business..



    First he established a Film Commission, a Film School (a project undertaken in collaboration with the New York Film Academy), and a Film Fund (One deal signed with Warner Brothers in September involved $500 million for production and the same sum for video games, a theme park and Arabic- speaking productions for regional distribution) and called for the creation of a world class International film Festival in Abu Dhabi.



    Next he appointed Nashwa Al-Ruwaini an Egyptian TV presenter with 18 years' experience who had been named the Arab world's 20th most powerful business woman by FORBES, after she established two satellite channels in Abu Dhabi, one in English and one in Arabic, the executive director of MEIFF and empowered her to organize with a budget of $3,500,000



    Losing no time, Al-Ruwaini went top shelf and recruited festival organizer Jon Fitzgerald, co-founder of Slamdance, former festival Director for the American Film Institute to produce a Middle East festival with an emphasis on the financial incentives and venture capital available to building a film infrastructure in Abu Dhabi. Fitzgerald's international team began to program and most importantly establish the first annual convention of the Film Financing Circle (FFC) -- an initiative to bring together filmmakers and film financiers from all over the world to Abu Dhabi.



    Fitzgerald turned to Adrienne Briggs, LA based producer, insider, and festival resource expert and commissioned her to "bring top level Industry power brokers and creative forces " to participate in the FFC.



    All agreed that the primary goal would be in the words of Nashwa Al-Ruwaini "In addition to providing International and regional filmmakers with festival exposure, MEIFF will help to secure appropriate film financing opportunities for the International investment community in Abu Dhabi and the U.A,E.



    Briggs opened up her little black book of contacts and convinced top-level executives to come and share their knowledge with the Abu Dhabi investment community and fledgling U.A,E producers, writers and directors.



    After the Warner announcement hit the trades, the international film business community knew that Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei was putting capital where it mattered.



    Briggs organized an eye-raising assortment of powerbrokers to lend their expertise and ears. With first class airfare, all expenses paid at the seven stars The Emirates Palace perks included plus the opportunity to meet with locals with checkbook power. An impressive list accepted the invitation to discuss High-Level Finance, Production Finance, Production including --- Branko Lusting, Croatian producer (Black Hawk Down, Hannibal, Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven, Schindler's List), Paul Federbush, senior vice president for production and acquisitions at Warner Independent Pictures (Paradise Now), Ryan Kavanaugh, president of Relativity Media (The Pursuit of Happiness, Ghost Rider), Deepak Nayar, Indian-British independent films' executive producer ( Lost Highway, The End of Violence, Buena Vista Social Club ), Nansun Shi, Hong Kong producer ( Once Upon a Time in China, A Chinese Ghost Story, Infernal Affairs ), David Thompson, BBC Films' head ( Billy Elliot, Notes on a Scandal ), Isaad Younis, Egyptian president of Al-Arabia Film Production and Distribution ( Muwatin wa Mukhbir wa Harami -- "A Citizen, a Police Detective and a Thief, Sahar Al-Layali -- "Staying Up", Bahib Al-Sima -- "I Love Cinema") " the Weinstein Company head honcho producer Harvey Weinstein agreed to having keynote the keynote discussion.



    Weinstein was a powerful role model of how to do business in the Arab World. To watch his new slim physique and charming attitude, not only in the keynote interview, with he told the gathering .". to trust your investments with producers with a record of accomplishment. We will look to make films that start local but have a universal appeal" --and seeing him over the course of three days hovered in private discussions over tea with Abu Dhabi investors showing how business could over come bias was a sight to behold.



    Weinstein, like the other participants, make ample use of the over the top. 3.5-billon architectural wonder of the Emirates Palace, a Bollywood-ish spectacle over-laid with a Disney fantasy of an Ottoman Place. The hotel's nooks and crannies welcomed the kind of private conversations that birthed deals like the Warner's. East met West at MEIFF's indoor, air-conditioned gamble parlor.



    The Palace was the site of all the Film Festival activities.



    The programming team included Nancy Collet for International films. Collet put her emphasis on the festival's Intentional outreach including a four film Indian spotlight, a tribute to Spanish Director Carlos Saura and an in-memoriam tribute to Africa film pioneer Ousae Sambene. Her selections also highlighted the political reality of the Middle East. To this end she and Fitzgerald's selections included Brian De Palma's Venice award winner Redacted, the Jake Gyllenhaal topped Rendition (the collateral damage of intelligence torture), and Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah a searing indictment of the American publics ignorance of the consequences on its children of the invasion of Iraq. Competition films were an international mix including films from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Demark, Cambodia, France, Austria/Germany, Morocco, Mexico and the US . Responsible for the Arab division was the well-known Egyptian critic Samir Farid. His selection spotlighted Amer AL Zuhar's controversial, Kuwaiti banned, documentary When the People Spoke about the face off between the Muslin moderates and fundamentalists about gender equality and a woman's right to vote and hold political office in Kuwait. Also a Middle Eastern dramatic comedy with western potential Farida Bourquia's Two Women On the Road. A crowd pleaser about how two Muslin women, one very secular and one traditional, find out what they have in common. Farid also included a spotlight on Arab women directors and a selection of GCU films.



    To give muscle to Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei desire to attract local talent to build a film infrastructure, Fitzgerald and Briggs created a master class to be taught by Academy Award wining director, Paul Haggis, whose film In the Valley of Elah was the closing night selection





    Adrienne Briggs, FFC Director explained, "The Film Financing Circle recognizes that creative talent is one of the critical components to a film's financial success. Paul represents our commitment to fostering these promising new filmmakers, and we're excited to give them an opportunity to explore their craft with one of the greatest screenwriters of our time."



    Haggis pulled no punches as he took seriously his role to tell the truth about how to succeed in the film business.



    " Unless you have a story to tell all the money in the world will not make a difference. Your script must be story that is authentic to your own experience. Do not try to replicate Hollywood movies, make a movie that is true to your own lives." He answered one would-be director's question on directing direct "You learn by doing all the aspects of film making, you must understand what it means for example to be a grip. You do not start at the top. Nothing will help you realize your vision on a sound stage more than knowing how all aspects of making a film works. Learn how to listen and to talk to your producer so as to not antagonize the relationship and still be true to your own self."



    Each of the six finalists in the master class who were chose out of 135 entries had the opportunity to pitch their projects in open session. Jon Fitzgerald said, "MEIFF gives an unparallel opportunity for these young filmmakers to pitch to these world class industry leaders their script for the not only their attention but for a prize of 85 000 US."



    The red carpet was all frenzy with Arabic stars and starlets. The cast and director Nadine Labaki of Caramel caused near pandemonium on their entrance before the sold out screening Other than two US actors from In the Valley of Elah, Francis Fischer and US military Iraqi veteran and actor Jake McLauglan the carpet was barren of US talent.



    The juries presented the MEIFF Black Pearl awards on closing night with prizes carriing big cash rewards: (sidebar)



    Abu Dhabi calls it self the richest city in the world and MEIFF brought together the local investment capital with the FFC industry leaders. At the closing night gala a buzz of deals and business friendships fostered by the festival was the talk of the illuminati dancing and eating the night away.



    To their collective credit Jon Fitzgerald, Adrianna Briggs and team had accomplished in three months time the almost impossible task of birthing a first class international film festival for Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei, Nashwa Al-Ruwaini, and the business community of Abu Dhabi. Jon Fitzgerald announced all is in motion for even a higher standard for next year's MEIFF in Abu Dhabi 2008



    -30-

    jim fouratt



    BLACK PEARL AWARDS AND PRIZE WINNERS at MIDDLE EAST INTERANTIONAL FILM FESTIVAL in Abu Dhabi 10-14-19-07



    The Middle East International Film Festival - Abu Dhabi (MEIFF) announced the winners of the Black Pearl Awards at the Closing Night Ceremony held at the Emirates Palace.



    'We started big and we are here to stay,' said Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei, MEIFF Vice-Chairman.



    Producer Peter Bouckaert, and Director Nic Balthazar of BEN X

    Winner of the Black Pearl Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film. (85.000US) Belgium



    Michael James Rowland of LUCKY MILES

    Winner of Black Pearl Jury Prize for Best New Director (Feature Film).(85;000 US) Australia



    Ensemble Cast: Nadine Labaki, Yasmine Al Masri, Joanna Moukarzel. Gisele Aouad and Sihame Haddad of CARAMEL Winner of the Black Pearl for Best Actress. (shared (85.000 US))Lebanon/France



    Carl Markovics of THE COUNTERFEITERS

    Winner of the Black Pearl for Best Actor. (85.000 US) Austra



    Paul Taylor of WE ARE TOGETHER

    Winner of Black Pearl Jury Prize for Best Documentary Film. (85.000 US)



    Producer Gundny Hummelvoll, and Director Hisham Zaman of BAWKE

    Winner of the Black Pearl for Best Short Film. (35.000US) Norway



    Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont of MANON ON THE PAVEMENT

    Winner of the Black Pearl for Best New Director (Short Film). (35.000 US) France



    Josh Raskin of I MET THE WALRUS

    Winner of the Black Pearl for Best Animated Short Film. ((35.000 US) Canada



    Other awards announced at the Closing Night Awards Ceremony include the Hayah Film Competition, Variety Middle East Filmmaker of the Year Award, UAE Filmmakers of the Year, and Audience Choice Awards for Best Short Film, Best Fiction and Best Documentary.



    The Black Pearl trophy (designed by Mohammed Gomaa, with the Grand Jury Prize was hand designed Azza Qubeisi is a handmade sculpture representing the beautiful and rare black pearl originally discovered in the pristine waters of the Abu Dhabi coastline, and a symbol that is an integral part of Abu Dhabi history and culture. The Black Pearl Awards also come with a production grant that will help launch the filmmaker's future projects.



    The winners were chosen by a jury of the upper echelon of the filmmaking community/



    Features; Ian Birnie, Director of Film Department of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Elliot Kotek, Editor-in-Chief of Moving Pictures Magazine; Christian Frei, renowned documentary filmmaker; Ann Bernier, veteran film producer; Mohamed Al-Ahmad, head of the National Film Organization in Syria; Naguib Ayad, an executive producer in Tunisia and Claudia Landsberger, media industry executive and film festival consultant.



    Shorts: Marianne Khoury, film director and producer; Andrew Crane, short film programmer for American Cinematheque; Ueli Steiger, director of photography; E. Elias Merhige, recognized director; and Jamal Salem, an Emirati writer.



    In addition to the Black Pearl awards, the following recipients were honored



    Hayah Film Competition.



    RAMADAN by Fatima Al Shamsi in the Student Category,



    CELEBRATE LIFE by Kamil Roxas in the Amateur Category and



    FOR NO ONE by Ziad Oakes in the Professional Category.



    The winners in each category will receive an awards package including a cash prize of USD $5,000, an iPod, and a one-year scholarship to attend the New York Film Academy's new Abu Dhabi campus, scheduled to open in February 2008.



    Variety Middle East Filmmaker of the Year award: ,

    Nadine Labaki of CARAMEL



    UAE Filmmakers of the Year:

    Fadel Al Muheiry and Hani Al Shibani.



    Audience Choice Award :



    Audience Choice for Best Short went to TANGHI ARGENTINI,



    Audience Choice for Fiction went to PERSEPOLIS



    Audience Choice for Documentary was awarded to HERE AND NOW.

  • jimfour | October 30, 2007 7:10 AMReply

    Here is the missing side bar:

    (jim fouratt)



    ABU DHABI BLACK PEARL AWARD

    WINNERS



    Black Pearl Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Film:

    Producer Peter Bouckaert, and Director Nic Balthazar of BEN X (cash prize $85,000) Belgium



    Black Pearl Jury Prize for Best New Director (Feature Film):

    Michael James Rowland of LUCKY MILES (cash prize of $85,000) Australia



    Black Pearl for Best Actress.

    Ensemble Cast: Nadine Labaki, Yasmine Al Masri, Joanna Moukarzel.Gisele Aouad and Sihame Haddad of CARAMEL

    (cash prize of $85,000) Lebanon/France



    Black Pearl for Best Actor.

    Carl Markovics of THE COUNTERFEITERS (cash prize of $85,000) Austria



    Black Pearl Jury Prize for Best Documentary Film.

    Paul Taylor of WE ARE TOGETHER

    (cash prize of $85,000) United Kingdom



    Black Pearl for Best Short Film.

    Producer Gundny Hummelvoll, and Director Hisham Zaman of BAWKE cash prize of $30,000 (Norway)



    Black Pearl for Best New Director (Short Film).

    Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont of MANON ON THE PAVEMENT (cash prize of $30,000) France



    Black Pearl for Best Animated Short Film.

    Josh Raskin of I MET THE WALRUS (cash prize of $30,000) Canada



    Additional prizes included�



    The Film Financing Circle InCircle Pearl Grant shared

    Middle East International Film Festival's InCircle Pearl Grant was a tie .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."



    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



    Variety Middle East Filmmaker of the Year award

    Nadine Labaki director/lead actress in CARAMEL cash $85,000



    Abu Dhabi (MEIFF), the Abu Dhabi Media Company in conjunction with the Emirates Film Competition and the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage awarded two established Emirati filmmakers with an award for their outstanding efforts towards filmmaking.

    Fadhel Al Muhairi and Hani Shaibani both received a grant of $85,000 each in recognition of their filmmaking talents





    The winners were chosen by these juries:



    FEATURES:

    Ian Birnie, Director of Film Departmentof the Los Angeles County Museum of Art;

    Elliot Kotek, Editor-in-Chief of Moving Pictures Magazine;

    Christian Frei, renowned documentary filmmaker;

    Ann Bernier, veteran film producer;

    Mohamed Al-Ahmad, headof the National Film Organization in Syria;

    Naguib Ayad, an executive producer in Tunisia

    Claudia Landsberger, media industry executive, film festival consultant.



    SHORTS :

    Marianne Khoury, film director and producer;

    Andrew Crane, short film programmer for American Cinematheque;

    Ueli Steiger, director of photography;

    E. Elias Merhige, director;

    Jamal Salem, an Emirati writer.



    Abu Dhabi (MEIFF), the Abu Dhabi Media Company in conjunction with the Emirates Film Competition and the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage awarded two established Emirati filmmakers with an

    award for their outstanding efforts towards filmmaking.

    Fadhel Al Muhairi and Hani Shaibani both received a grant of $85,000 each in recognition of their filmmaking talents.



    (jim fouratt)

  • jonathan miller | October 29, 2007 2:54 AMReply

    Who were the winners?