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Thu 8 Nov 2007 04:00 AM

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Walking the red carpet

Lara Haidar of The Rights Lawyers demystifies film festivals.

Film festivals are very important venues for new and young filmmakers and, when it comes to showing your movies, any festival is probably better than no festival. However, making a success of attending a film festival (other than simply having a festival experience) will depend on your objective and determining what exactly you want to achieve from the festival.

Whether this may be finding a distributor, making a sale or simply creating a buzz around a theatrical presentation, it is important to use all that is available to get what you want from a festival premiere. Generally speaking, young filmmakers will be out to secure one or all of three things during a festival: the production facility, the finance and the distribution/sales channels.

In the UAE, we now have two film festivals: the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) and the Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF), an Abu Dhabi government-backed project and hosted in the UAE capital. Therefore, filmmakers have double the chance of promoting their films and securing the funding they need to get started.

Film festivals provide a good opportunity to mix and network with world directors and producers. Whether a filmmaker is looking for a production company to take on his/her movie or whether they are looking for co-production opportunities, the festival will offer opportunities to meet with both local and international production companies.

Of special interest to look out for locally is The Industry Office which was introduced by DIFF in 2006, and has hosted guests from renowned industry organisations including Jordan's Royal Film Commission, Sundance Film Festival, Cannes Festival, and the Weinstein Company. The Industry Office is an initiative aimed at providing networking opportunities for local talent with internationally recognised companies. This is the forum in which to look for partnerships and co-productions.

Finding funding for your movie is probably the most difficult part of making a movie. There are various ways to go about it and perhaps in this jurisdiction, which is still an emerging market in this region, the avenues are fewer than in other countries whose film industries are more developed. So, unless you're born rich and opt for private or self funding, you will be looking for people with money to take on your production.

These may be various parties including federal and local government agencies, special interest groups and media organisations, which are often represented at film festivals.

At the government level, along with the launch of MEIFF, the Abu Dhabi government recently established the Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC). The role of ADFC will be, amongst others, to create and offer financial (and non-financial) incentives for local talent to make movies. ADFC's support will include providing organisational assistance to productions including obtaining the necessary permits, providing staff and facilities, location scouting and stock footage etc. ADFC will also assist filmmakers by offering them funding and grants in addition to helping local talents get representation internationally. Music to local filmmakers' ears.

Another relevant feature of MEIFF is the Film Financing Circle (FFC), an annual conference covering international co-productions. The FFC is also aimed at providing incentives for filmmakers by ensuring the attendance of global businessmen exploring investment opportunities - another potential source of funding.

Another initiative is The Dubai Film Connection (DFC). The DFC is the first feature film project market in the UAE whose purpose is to bring international film distributors into contact with Arab filmmakers seeking funding. This year, ten projects at an advanced stage of development will be selected by an international panel of filmmakers. This is a fabulous opportunity for filmmakers to present their works, get a small financial contribution (a reported US $15,000) and get flown to the prominent networking event in 2008.

Some practical tips

What does the filmmaker take to a film festival?

A good idea to start with:A good film, or the makings of a good film is the most important thing you need to have covered.

Packaging:Have a brief synopsis and a short overview (one or two pages long) of what the film is about which can be handed out to key contacts at the festival.

Objective:Decide what you want to get out of the festival (production, finance, distribution or just the experience).

Planning:Arrive early and find out who is attending what and where to find them.

Back up plan:Have a back-up project handy: a chance meeting can turn into a pitch session.

Once the above checklist is in order, consider the following:

Networking:Talk to as many industry identities as you can.

Work the festival:Participate in everything the festival offers. Get involved in panel discussions, go to networking events, talk to other filmmakers and do everything it takes because they may have already covered areas of the festival and can give you feedback.

Get professional help:Do this preferably before the festival. Find the company or the individual (usually called agents) who will take care of doing the talking and selling on your behalf.

They usually agree to a fee or a percentage of the revenue but they will be able to pitch your movie to the right people.

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