The Middle East and North Africa region’s cinema star is rising across every aspect of the chain from production to exhibition to streaming.
Fresh energy has been injected into the sector by the arrival of Saudi Arabia on the scene following the lifting of its cinema ban in 2017 as part of its 2030 Vision diversifying the country’s economy away from oil.
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Neighboring Qatar, one of the only stable major sources of funding for film in the region for more than a decade, also continues to play a vital role via the Doha Film Institute.
Its grants program, year-round training initiatives and springtime talent incubator Qumra have supported more than 750 short, features and series projects from 78 countries over the past decade.
The body was out in force at Cannes this year having supported films across Official Selection and the parallel sections, including Palme d’Or contenders About Dry Grasses, Club Zero and Banel And Adama; Un Certain Regard titles The Mother Of All Lies, If Only I Could Hibernate and Hounds as well as Cannes Critics’ winner Tiger Stripes.
“Our system and its ecosystem have been in place for a long time and have proven to be a success on many levels,” said DFI CEO Fatma Hassan Alremaihi. “We love what we do and we’re very passionate about it. Our main focus is the filmmakers.”
Alremaihi welcomes the creation of similar development and support schemes in Saudi Arabia as it builds a cinema ecosystem from scratch.
“We get 500 films submitted to a cycle and we cannot fund 500 films so it’s great to know that the filmmakers have other options and other outlets in the region because it’s very hard otherwise,” she said.
She points to the network of state film institutions across Europe and the way European filmmakers tap into different funding schemes to finance their films and says she would love it if a similar ecosystem could grow up across MENA.
Alremaihi was speaking to Deadline in Cannes just one month after the first physical edition of Qumra since 2019, following three online editions due to the pandemic.
“It was amazing to have everyone back and that great vibe,” she said.
Alremaihi was in Cannes with right-hand woman Hanaa Issa, director of film funding and programs, as well as Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, who is artistic advisor for Qumra.
The team are already in talks over the cohort of Qumra Masters for the event’s 10th edition in 2024.
These leading professionals attend the event to give a career masterclass as well as to mentor some of the attendees and have included Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Alice Rohrwacher, Claire Denis, Lynne Ramsay and Christopher Hampton in recent years.
After last year’s exclusively US and UK cohort, Suleiman hinted he hoped to appoint at least one or two of the Masters out of the MENA region in 2024 while emphasizing that the final line-up always depends on talent availability.
As per its tradition, the DFI also unveiled the recipients for its spring 2023 grants round while in Cannes.
The latest round comprised 29 projects from 18 countries including Algeria, Bahrain, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Lebanon, Mongolia, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Sudan and Tunisia.
Feature projects in the mix include Algerian filmmaker Sofia Djama’s A Quarter to Thursday In Algiers, Tunisian director Mehdi M. Barsaoui’s Aïcha and Morad Mostafa’s Aisha Can’t Fly Away Anymore. All three features will go into production in the coming months.
“Our Spring Grants 2023 reinforces our continued commitment to filmmakers globally who have once again impressed us with the diversity and depth of the original themes they are exploring in their stories,” said Alremaihi.
Full list of 2023 Spring Grants projects and synopses (provided by the DFI)
MENA – Feature Narrative – Development
Kohl & Cardamom (Egypt, Sweden, Qatar)
Dir. Fady Atallah
Set in a small Egyptian town in the late 1980s, 14-year-old Abdullah faces a nerve-wracking challenge when he agrees with his father not to cause trouble for five days in return for being able to attend a concert by the then-rising superstar Mohamed Mounir.
Rabies (Lebanon, Qatar)
Dir. Sandra Tabet
A history professor obsesses over the unresolved Lebanese civil war while struggling to mend her fragile relationship with her son.
To Bled or Not to Bled (France, Algeria, Qatar)
Dir. Azedine Kasri
Dali wants to live the Algerian dream but a chance meeting with a woman changes everything.
MENA – Feature Narrative – Production
A Quarter to Thursday in Algiers (Algeria, France, Belgium, Qatar)
Dir. Sofia Djama
Three friends, disillusioned with the demonstrations shaking the city of Algiers, embark on a risky mission.
Aïcha (Tunisia, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar)
Dir Mehdi M. Barsaoui
Explores how far one can go to break free from their past.
Aisha Can’t Fly Away Anymore (Egypt, Tunisia, Qatar)
Dir. Morad Mostafa
The underworld of African migrant society in Cairo and the tension between the different groups as witnessed by Aisha, a Somali caregiver.
La Mer Au Loin (France, Qatar)
Dir. Saïd Hamich Benlarbi
27-year-old Nour emigrates illegally to Marseille and lives off petty crime with friends leading marginal lives, and partying hard.
MENA – Feature Narrative – Post-Production
Back to Alexandria (Switzerland, France, Qatar)
Dir. Tamer Ruggli
Sue returns to Egypt to meet her estranged mother, Fairouz, an eccentric aristocrat. This surprising journey, leading her from Cairo back to Alexandria, allows Sue to become the empowered woman she ought to be.
East of Noon (Egypt, Netherlands, Qatar)
Dir. Hala Elkoussy
A fable about musician Abdo, who rebels against his elders, seeking freedom through his art in a confined world outside of time.
Non-MENA – Feature Narrative – Post-Production
Banel & Adama (France, Senegal, Mali, Qatar)
Dir. Ramata-Toulaye Sy
In a small village in northern Senegal, Banel and Adama’s love challenges traditional customs, disrupting their community.
Excursion (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Norway, France, Qatar)
Dir. Una Gunja
A teenage girl’s seemingly little lie leads her into a storm of expectations, condemnation, and social dogmas.
Lost Country (France, Serbia, Luxembourg, Croatia, Qatar)
Dir. Vladimir Perišić
A 15-year-old who must accept the unacceptable—that his mother is an accomplice of the regime’s crimes.
The Women (Germany, Italy, Qatar)
Dir. The Maw Naing
A young Burmese woman moves to the big city to work in a garment factory to support her family.
Ze (France, Mongolia, Netherlands, Germany, Qatar)
Dir. Lkhagvadulam Purev-Ochir
A teenage shaman falls in love with a girl, shattering his fragile existence in modern Mongolia.
MENA – Feature – Experimental/Essay – Development
Tell it to Bridges (Lebanon, Qatar)
Dir. Ali Hammoud
A quest for a forever home which leads to one being lost and the other not entirely found.
MENA – Feature Documentary – Production
I Am One of Them (Poland, Qatar)
A Syrian immigrant shoots a film about a Polish nationalist, which becomes an excuse to bring the two together, setting them out on a faraway trip to discover their identities.
MENA – Feature Documentary – Post-Production
The Language of Fire (Algeria, France, Qatar)
Dir. Tarek Sami
Explore the idea that while a nomad is free from accountability, immobility must be accounted for.
Non-MENA – Feature Documentary – Post-Production
Ozogoche (Ecuador, Qatar)
Dir. Joe Houlberg
Exploration of the migration of the Cuviví bird to the Ecuadorian highlands, which ends in collective suicide as they plunge into the Ozogoche Lakes
Rising Up at Night (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Belgium, Germany, Burkina Faso, Qatar)
Dir. Nelson Makengo
Plans to build the largest power plant on the Congo plunge 17 million people into darkness and insecurity.
MENA – TV Series – Development
Dyouf (Guests) (Palestine, Qatar)
Dir. Saleh Saadi
A family of five run a guesthouse in their Bedouin village in Occupied Palestine while living in a turmoil of relations, identity, and career.
Halaa’ (Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar)
Dir. Amal Al Muftah
An anthology of Middle Eastern crime stories that explores the complex ironies of human morality.
MENA – Web Series – Production
The House That My Mother Built (Sudan, Qatar)
Dir. Alyaa Musa
Eight women from across Sudan as they share their astonishing encounters with the inhabitants of the households they took refuge in during Sudan’s revolution in 2019.
MENA – Shorts – Narrative – Production
Dir. Aisha Al-Jaidah
A romantic tragedy of the captivity of ambitious thoughts under short roofs.
The Experiment (Qatar)
In a prison in a Middle Eastern city where a Qatari researcher must win a promotion challenge to prove that his rehab experiment works.
The Day I Smoked a Cigarette with My Father (Egypt, France, Qatar)
Dir. Sameh Alaa
Set in 1964, 12-year-old Alaa and his three siblings prepare to welcome their father who is returning from prison.
MENA – Shorts Documentary – Production
Rhythms of the Soul (France, Qatar)
Dir. Mohamed Khamkham
In the heart of Morocco, a musical celebration unlike any other unfolds against the backdrop of Essaouira’s historic medina. Rhythms of the Soul immerses viewers in the vibrant and transcendent world of gnawa music.
MENA – Shorts – Experimental/Essay – Production
No Reaching Hand (Qatar)
Dir. Batla Aldosari
A young woman goes through a series of disturbing events as she tries to find her true self.
L’mina (France, Morocco, Qatar)
Dir. Rande Maroufi
A former mining town in Morocco sees a decline in its fortunes until all mining is ceased in 2001.
The Grocery List (Bahrain, Qatar)
Dir. Taqwa Ali.
A young man who rebels against his mother after she rejects a bottle of milk of his choice.
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