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Exciting times ahead for Palestinian film sector

UK producer Sam Taylor of Film & Music Entertainment (F&ME) joined representatives from France’s Centre National Du Cinema et De L’image Animée (CNC), the Royal Film Commission Jordan (RFC) and leading Palestinian film producers at an event to explore new models of support for the Palestinian film industry.

The late February event was a partnership between the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, the Institut Francais, Consulat général of France in Jérusalem (Service de coopération et d’action culturelle) and the British Council.

Dr Ehab Bessaiso, the Palestinian Minister of Culture, started the day by recognising the successes of Palestinian film to date and vowing to prioritise support for the sector. He was thankful for the opportunity to directly engage with the film industry at the event.

Leading figures from the Palestinian film sector spoke about some of the challenges that face the film sector, such as the difficulty of sustaining a creative business, raising private finance, or putting together a co-production without a system of national funding for film.

Saed Andoni, producer of The Wanted 18, also stressed the need to develop a local audience for Palestinian film, wanting to inspire families to go to the cinema together at the end of the week.

The co-production treaties signed with the UK and France continue to be appreciated by the sector. Osama Al Bawardi, producer of When I Saw You, is now putting together an official French-Palestinian co-production, which has encouraged distributors and an international sales company to board the project early.

That said, Palestinian experts said it is usually a challenge to develop international co-productions in Palestine without national funding in place. Muayad Alayan, producer and director of Berlinale-selected Love, Theft and Other Entanglements, highlighted the difficulty in balancing European investment that requires match-funding. Andoni said that with The Wanted 18, the production struggled to maintain Palestinian national status in a three-way co-production with Canada and France.

Learning from other countries

Julien Ezzano of France’s CNC presented an overview of successful international financing models, describing the benefits of a mixed economy where a strong home market – where local audiences support their locally made films – is supported by private investment, financial incentives from the government and a system that forces TV channels to invest in local films. However, he argued, financing is just one part of a film ecosystem that also needs to include film education and training.

Nada Doumani of the RFC then outlined the support mechanisms in Jordan -- which have the mission statement Learn - Shoot - Watch. Inward investment is central to the strategy of the RFC: foreign productions shooting in Jordan bring in significant sums of money, stimulate tourism and also offer opportunities for young film professionals. They have a range of incentives in place including VAT and tax exemptions – equating to roughly 22% benefit based on Jordanian spend.  It is estimated that 1million JOD (£1.1m) of incentives bring a 6million JOD (£6.7m) benefit to the economy.  They also have a fund of 500,000 JOD (£559,000) over two years (which has supported 34 local shorts, features and documentaries).

British Producer Sam Taylor of Film & Music Entertainment has co-produced 45 films since 2000 and has been working closely with Georgia sector in recent years, including on films such as Mariam Khatchvani's Dede and Mohsen Makhmalbaf's The President. She presented a case study on the Georgian industry which, despite its small stature, has been re-invigorated through a smart programme of government support. This has lead the Georgian industry to punch above its weight internationally, with, for example, four films presenting in official sections of the 2017 Berlinale.

So, what did the Georgians do right? Firstly they established a film fund, and although the amounts that are invested in each film are relatively small – €100,000 to €150,000 per film – this can anchor a co-production finance plan and means that the producer can leverage other funds. The Georgians also focused on co-producing regionally - not with their immediate neighbours Russia so much, but with countries with a similar film economy like Latvia or Iceland.

Taylor made the point that three smaller partners can together build a reasonable finance plan to make a film. The Georgians also did a great deal to train their producers, directors and writers, to nurture talent and create success.

She also called upon Palestinian film producers to unify and agree on what sort of support would be best placed for the exciting times ahead for the film sector in Palestine.

Meanwhile, The British Council in Palestine has developed a partnership with Filmlab Palestine to deliver a programme of support for the sector, building on previous successes such as 2013’s EAVE Interchange Programme, which saw the development of both Love, Theft and Other Entanglements and Roshmia, and saw Bawardi win the inaugural Palestinian scholarship to the flagship EAVE training programme in Luxembourg.

Activities planned for 2017 include a partnership with Sheffield Doc/Fest and a touring screening programme in Palestine during the autumn, with other training opportunities to be announced.