What's Next for GCC Cinema?

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Our community member, Amin Fadl, reports on ADFF's GCC Cinema Panel

Panelists: 
Mohammed Al Otaiba (Moderator), Nawaf Al Janahi (Director), Adel Al Jabri (Senior Director of Programming, ADFF), Samr Al Marzouqi (Dubai Film Market Manager), Paul Baker (Executive Director of twofour54)
 
Though this discussion was meant to be a “retrospective analysis”, the conversation naturally flowed towards more current issues. Right from start to finish, the panel discussed hot topics. The first of these was whether or not there is a real “film industry” in the UAE. 
 
“We do not have an industry, we have a movement.” 
 
These are the words I’ve heard time and time again at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, most recently from Samr Al Marzooqi during the panel talk Build it and they Will Come: A Retrospective Analysis of the Gulf’s Fledgling Film Industry. The rest of the panelists seemed to be in agreement that the UAE does not have a real film industry yet. 
 
“We are building an industry, but there is a long way to go”, Paul Baker admitted.
 
Nawaf Al Janahi seemed anxious to answer the question with a particularly honest response. 
 
“What we have achieved is a functioning platform. Before 2002, there was nothing. 
Today we have a filmmaking community, festivals, and collaboration between cultures. The only problem is that we don’t need propaganda. We must be objective and practical with our films. It can play with the mindset of young filmmakers because they think we have an industry and they try to jump straight into features.”
 
When asked to clarify what he meant by propaganda, Al Janahi was quick to answer,
 
“Promoting a film simply because it’s a local film. If a film is good, say it is good, if a film is bad, say it is bad. We are too proud to simply make a film as UAE filmmakers rather than looking at the film objectively.”
 
The panel went on to discuss what is really lacking amongst filmmakers in the UAE. The panelists seemed to agree on one issue in particular, the sense of entitlement that many young filmmakers in the region have. 
 
“Some filmmakers come to us demanding special treatment. If you come to me for funding, but I just don’t like the film, what am I supposed to do”, said Adel Al Jabri.
 
When asked about what specific skills are needed urgently, each panelist had a different answer. The list of answers included producers, writers, production assistants, and distributors, with Nawaf Al Janahi again being perfectly candid.
 
“It’s not about skill, it’s about commitment”, Al Janahi proclaimed.
 
Noting the amount of women in the crowd, the discussion moved on to the number of female filmmakers in the UAE. On this topic, Adel Al Jabri’s response stood out among the rest.
 
“There are many women in the industry making films. The issue is that every year they are different women”, Al Jabri explained.
 
What seemed to be the recurring response to many issues including distribution, budgets, and the lack of certain crew roles, was that there is a lack of understanding or education regarding these issues. Once again, Al Janahi’s blunt honesty shone through the rest of the panelists.
 
“We need collaboration. Many people don’t know how much activity there is in the UAE”
 
To further prove his point, the popular UAE director asked the crowd how many film festivals there are in the country. A few members of the audience answered “two”, or “three”. With a smile, Al Janahi said,
 
“There are ten.” Leaving the crowd in a bit of a stunned silence.
 
This panel was extremely informative for a young filmmaker such as myself. It helped me really understand what I need to focus on to grow into the budding UAE film industry. It was also fascinating to see just how remarkable the growth of the industry is in this country.