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Arab Filmmaking in Focus at the Doha Film Institute Panel

Apr 26, 2011 — The Institute

Event Brings Industry Professionals Together at the 10th Tribeca Film Festival in New York

New York, 26th April, 2011 – The Doha Film Institute (DFI) continued to foster international exposure of Arab films and regional issues through hosting a special discussion at the tenth Annual New York Tribeca Film Festival (TFF). The panel discussed the potential impacts of the MENA revolutions on storytelling, production, and distribution of Arab films around the world, providing a timely discussion platform for issues that could heavily impact the emergence and circulation of creative, social, cultural and political perspectives throughout the region.

The panel participants were international film distributor Richard Lorber, producer-director-screenwriter Cherien Dabis, Egyptian producer Sherif Mandour, and Lebanese filmmaker Mahmoud Kaabour. Kaabour’s award –winning documentary, Grandma, A Thousand Times, was shown before the discussion. The panel was chaired by Hayet Benkara.

The discussion highlighted many issues facing filmmakers in the region today including the political climate, censorship and financial stability. The panellists shared their own experiences of making films in and about the region before discussing the potential impact of the current political upheaval.

Mahmoud Kaabour noted that “For the past ten years Arab cinema has had to address 9/11, almost answer up to an accusation. I think that we’ll now see the ‘thesis’ emerging from the Arab world. We’ll see strong themes and narratives in film.”

Sherif Mandour agreed “The recent events in the Arab world have seen freedom of speech held high, and filmmakers should now be able to present real stories. This will be very interesting for the rest of the world to see.”

Cherien Dabis added “People in the region have pushed through a level of fear. People feel empowered and there is a sense of hope. I think people will feel they have the freedom to be more critical of themselves in film.”

Kaabour went on to note that “there will probably be a major shift in the aesthetic of Arab films. For instance, many North African films are veiled in symbolism to by-pass the censors, and their meanings can be very opaque to audiences in the wider world.”

Addressing the subject of genres Kaabour speculated “The documentary form did much to propagate the current actions across the Arab world. I think the documentary form will finally enter a golden age.”

Richard Lorber said “Historically, Arab films that have done well internationally are those that have emerged from conflict. These have traditionally risen from the Israel / Palestine situation, but I think this ground is ceded to current events in the region. I’m very optimistic about the proliferation of highest quality films coming out of the Arab world.”

The discussion was preceded by a special screening of Grandma, A Thousand Times – A 48-minute documentary that was co-produced by DFI. Written and directed by Mahmoud Kaabour, the film provides an intimate insight into Kaabour’s 83 year-old grandmother. With great intimacy, Kaabour uses innovative cinematic techniques to document her struggles to cope with her shrinking household and her expectations of what lies beyond death.

TFF’s screening marks the North American premiere of the film, after receiving regional and international critical-acclaim at the 2010 Doha Tribeca Film Festival (Audience Award for Best Documentary), DOXBOX International Documentary Film Festival in Damascus (Audience Award for Best Documentary) and the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).

Richard Lorber is the President and CEO of Kino Lorber, a worldwide distribution company of foreign films, art house classics and entertainment specials that distributed Academy Award nominee “Ajami” by Scandar Copti.

Cherien Dabis is a Palestinian American director, producer, and screenwriter. In 2009 she directed the critically-acclaimed drama Amreeka, for which she won awards at the Cannes and Cairo Film Festivals. That same year she was named one of Variety magazine’s 10 Directors to Watch from the Middle East.

Sherif Mandour is an Egyptian producer and director. He most recently produced Cairo Exit, which is currently playing at the Tribeca Film Festival. Other features include The Mediterranean Man, What’s Up, Heliopolis and Ein Shams, which won six international awards.

Hayet Benkara is an international Film Advisor who has worked as a Match-Maker and Industry Liaison for many international film festivals, including Toronto, Cannes , Berlin, Dubai and most recently Abu Dhabi. Benkara has extensive knowledge of the international market place and advises filmmakers and producers on the development, production, co-production, distribution and marketing of films.

About Doha Film Institute:
DFI is an independent cultural organization established to incorporate Qatar’s film initiatives under one banner. Our many initiatives range from film funding for MENA and international films, production to year round educational programs, film screenings, as well as the annual Doha Tribeca Film Festival (DTFF).