Arab Cin­ema Cen­tre cel­e­brates two years of suc­cess

The National - News - Arts & Life - - Front Page - Chris New­bould

The 67th Berlin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, which ended last week, marked the sec­ond an­niver­sary of the creation of the Arab Cin­ema Cen­tre, which was an­nounced at the event in 2015.

Much of the re­main­der of that first year was spent de­vel­op­ing the ACC as a con­cept and fine-tun­ing its re­mit to boost in­ter­est in, ac­cess to and fund­ing for Arab Cin­ema around the world. There­fore 2016 was the cen­tre’s first full year in oper­a­tion, and the ACC used this year’s Ber­li­nale to high­light some of its big­gest achieve­ments so far. “We’ve cre­ated the first English- lan­guage magazine that’s ded­i­cated to the busi­ness of the Arab film in­dus­try,” says Alaa Kark­outi, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Arab-movie dis­trib­u­tor MAD So­lu­tions, which or­gan­ises the ACC. “The magazine is pub­lished quar­terly and is dis­trib­uted at key film fes­ti­vals around the world where ACC is present. That’s a ma­jor one.”

In terms of help­ing with fund­ing and pro­duc­tion, the high­light, says Kark­outi, came late at Dubai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val (Diff), last De­cem­ber, where ACC handed out its first ART prize, which of­fers an award of up to US$10,000 (Dh36,726) for the best scripts in devel­op­ment.

Even more sig­nif­i­cantly, the ACC also launched the Arab Cin­ema Cen­tre Lab dur­ing Diff.

“This was a first- of- its- kind film- fi­nanc­ing in­cu­ba­tor for ac­cel­er­at­ing new film projects and new busi­ness ideas that will drive the Arab film in­dus­try for­ward over the com­ing year,” says Kark­outi.

In sim­ple terms, the ACC in­tro­duced the best Arab film­mak­ers with projects in need of fund­ing, with pro­duc­ers, dis­trib­u­tors, broad­cast­ers and in­vestors with money to in­vest. Kark­outi hopes the end results will be some of the most talked-about Arab mov- ies of the com­ing year. “By bring­ing to­gether a se­lect group of film­mak­ers, creative pro­duc­ers, fun­ders, dis­trib­u­tors and broad­cast­ers, the mission is to open new paths to pro­duc­tion for the most promising Arab sto­ry­tellers by show­cas­ing their work and lay­ing the ground­work for a more ro­bust in­vest­ment cul­ture,” says Kark­outi.

The cen­tre also spent part of its fes­ti­val-hop­ping time rais­ing the pro­file of Arab cin­ema in­ter­na­tion­ally through screen­ings, pre­sen­ta­tions and work­shops. One of the ma­jor achieve­ments in this re­spect was the in­clu­sion of Arab pro­duc­ers at the Rot­ter­dam In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val’s huge Pro­duc­ers’ Lab for the first time in the his­tory of the event.

Talk­ing of the fes­ti­val cir­cuit, there must be far worse ways to spend the year than visit­ing one fes­ti­val af­ter an­other in far-flung lo­ca­tions ev­ery few weeks, from Jor­dan to Ja­pan and Tu­nisia to Toronto. In to­tal, Kark­outi racked up 102,134km in air miles.

“Def­i­nitely Berlin and Cannes will al­ways be the best highlights,” he says. “The for­mer is a phe­nom­e­nal sup­porter and the birth­place of ACC in 2015. Cannes is where we launched the ACC Magazine. And, of course, what bet­ter way to end the year than at Diff, where we’ve launched our ACC Lab?”

In terms of in­di­vid­ual film highlights for the past year, Kark­outi re­mains diplo­matic and de­clines to pick any per­sonal favourites from last year’s crop, choos­ing in­stead to fo­cus on the film­mak­ing com­mu­nity as a whole.

“My real high­light was cre­at­ing a sense of unity and ca­ma­raderie among fel­low film­mak­ers, pro­duc­ers, film fes­ti­vals, funds from all around the world, and recog­nis­ing the Arab film in­dus­try as a le­git­i­mate film-busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, and not just a splat­ter­ing of ex­cep­tional tal­ents,” he says.

It has been a tu­mul­tuous few years, po­lit­i­cally and so­cially, for the Arab world – what ef­fect has this had on in­ter­na­tional au­di­ences’ per­cep­tions of Arab cin­ema?

Kark­outi is con­vinced the drama has only served to in­crease au­di­ences’ de­sire to hear sto­ries from the re­gion.

“I think all of the events that are still un­rav­el­ling in our re­gion have cre­ated an in­sa­tiable hunger to ab­sorb sto­ries from the Arab world,” he says.

“On the other hand, the re­al­ity of our po­lit­i­cal land­scape is in­spir­ing many au­teurs to ex­plore, bring­ing to the screens dif­fer­ent film genres that find their sole pur­pose is to en­ter­tain au­di­ences and al­low them to es­cape the con­fines of the present.”

Check out the ACC’s video break­down of its busy 2016 on YouTube

Courtesy Arab Cin­ema Cen­tre; Vit­to­rio Zunino Celotto / Getty Images for Doha Film In­sti­tute

Clock­wise from be­low left, the films Clash (Eshte­bak); and Ali, the Goat & Ibrahim, both ben­e­fited from the work of the Arab Cin­ema Cen­tre; and ACC or­gan­iser Alaa Kark­outi.

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