Arab Cinema Centre celebrates two years of success
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
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.