Lights, camera, action: Arab cinema at Cannes

The ambitious Arab Cinema Center and its 'culture of storytellers' has earned a place mingling among the likes of Steven Spielberg and Jodie Foster at Festival de Cannes 2016

Abdallah Al Shami, Managing Partner of MAD Solutions GCC, the first pan-Arab independent studio and creative consultancy for the Arab film industry tells Vision about his glamorous plans for the Cannes Film Festival 2016

What is the atmosphere like at Cannes?

It’s truly a most bizarre combination of glamour, film and business. From an industry side, you rarely have time to watch films in what’s considered to be one of the most important festivals for filmmakers to launch their projects.There is absolutely nothing laid-back about the festival, which makes it all the more exciting! Imagine having to work enough to have your voice heard among a plethora of celebrities, legendary filmmakers, film critics and shark-like distributors. It’s a tough sell, but one that’s definitely worthwhile!

How is Arab Cinema Centre involved at Cannes film festival 2016?

Just as last year, the ACC will have its own stand at le Marche Du Film, the business arm of Cannes Film Festival. ACC is the first stand-alone platform that is not associated to any country pavilion, encouraging more independent funding for Arab films via Arab producers or co-production initiatives and funds from Europe and the rest of the world.

For this edition, ACC is launching the ACC Magazine, the first of its kind in the world that is solely dedicated to everything film and entertainment industry from the Arab world.

As with every ACC edition in any of our partner festivals around the world, Cannes will witness a strong round of networking sessions, where film industry professionals, funds and institutions, meet with existing and up and coming filmmakers to help realize their dream projects.

How is MAD Solutions helping ACC to grow?

We started MAD when we stumbled upon the huge gap separating filmmakers from successful film releases, be it in festivals, theatres and beyond. Many aspiring and established filmmakers in the Arab world lack the resources to help them package their film at an international standard to raise its stakes on international festival circuits. With MAD, we aim to bridge the gap between “festival films” and “commercial films”. As a matter of fact, we intend to break this tradition of labelling and celebrate film as it should be: a great piece of art that can entertain and generate money!

What do you think is special about Arab cinema?

At the expense of generalisation, Arabs are a culture of storytellers. Our fates in the Arab world have seen tremendous upheavals since the beginning of time, and those have always been documented on various forms, be it in poetry, on parchments, scrolls and manuscripts. This means we have a lot to say. Most importantly, we have a thirst to tell our own stories, as there is a rebellion against “the other” speaking on our behalf. This fact by itself is intriguing enough to raise some eyebrows and stir a certain level of curiosity among audience members who are foreign to the culture on-screen. We are using the medium of film to spread our culture. And what better way to deliver this message than through the universal language of film?

What advice would you give to aspiring directors, writers and producers to pursue their career?

Listen and be humble. This applies to every filmmaker in the world, and not only in the UAE. Often in our industry, we come across inflated egos. What the filmmaker, writer or producer doesn’t realize is that this ego will kill every single possibility of success for their film. And one of the worst side-effects of this ego is the unrealistic expectations one would put behind their film project. Set your benchmarks from the minute your film's idea sprouts in your mind and don’t be afraid to allow it to evolve along with the natural progression of your film.

Tell us about your personal interest in cinema… how did it begin?

My first ever experience with cinema was with Tom and Jerry at Eldorado cinema in Abu Dhabi. Watching it on the big screen had me spellbound! I cannot pigeonhole my personal taste in films, as we are blessed to be living in times where we have such an abundance of brilliant talent delivering epic cinematic visions, be it an indie production or a Weinstein multi-million dollar film saga. I am always fascinated by how this universal language is able to touch the darkest and most remote corners of our emotions and imaginations.

Is there a film that is significant or memorable in your life?

The Hours by Stephen Daldry and Armour by Michael Hanake. I’ve seen many brilliant films before and after these two films, but to me, they’ve got the full package: cast, acting, music, cinematography, storyline and editing – even down to the trailer. Every frame, every dialogue or monologue, the travelling back and forth in time and every musical piece dug its claws into my being and has never let go since.