The wars of nations are renewed at the «Karlovy Vary» festival

2023-07-20 17:43:10

Arab films confused between their local origins and foreign funding

What is exciting about Saudi cinema is not that it started, a few years ago, with strong, supportive and promising results. This in itself is excellent, but what is interesting is that her films are made in Saudi Arabia. Patriotic films. Since Mahmoud Al-Sabbagh presented “Baraka Meets Baraka”, to be followed by Abdel Aziz Al-Shalahi in “Hadd Al-Tar”, Amin witnessed in “The Lady of the Sea”, and Haifa Al-Mansour in “The Perfect Candidate”, then the new group that recently launched several films, including “The Crow’s Song” by Muhammad Al-Salman, “A Star” by Abdullah Al-Arak, “Tariq Al-Wadi” by Khaled Fahd, and “The Old School” by Abdullah Al-Khamis. Since then, there has been a correct approach to securing adequate support for these productions from the Kingdom’s Film Authority in cooperation with the private companies that produce them.

The identity of the film

These are organic films in terms of origin, industry, and performances, and they differ from other tasks of Saudi support funds that are ready to grant production to non-Saudi films.

However, this distinction does not stand alone, but there is another important distinction related to it: the aforementioned films and a number of other national productions are rich in diversity between serious drama, comedy, romance, horror, road and travel cinema. It is a cinema that celebrates its choices of scripts and methods of work. The reason for this is due, even to a certain extent, to the fact that they are films that are directed to the large Saudi market first as purely commercial films. If the step was achieved for external shows, as is the case in the films of Haifa Al-Mansour, Mahmoud Al-Sabbagh and others, then this was a wonderful act, but basically it is an expression of national cinema.

We do not find these in circulation much these days in other Arab cinemas, and for another important reason: many of the produced films are now looking for external financing because there are not enough local economic and industrial capabilities.

It is no longer a secret that many of the Arab films that surround festivals around the world are, according to purely professional custom, not Arab. Saying that the director’s identity is what gives the film’s identity is not true. Fritz Lang’s Hollywood films are not German, depending on his origin. Alfred Hitchcock’s American films are not British. Youssef Chahine’s films are not all Egyptian because he is Egyptian.

The actual film affiliation is with predominant funding. Yes, there remains some amount of patriotism for some films, but it is a limited amount because the company that financed the film by more than two-thirds is foreign.

This dependence on foreign production has increased since the beginning of this century, and on the other hand, Arab-Arab productions have become almost missing since then as well. It has receded more than ever while dependence on Western financing has also increased more than ever.

The Saudi film “The Crow’s Song” (TV 11)

This situation affects many of the films that grew in Lebanon, from the films of Philippe Aractingi and Daniel Arbid, to the films of Nadine Labaki and Ghassan Salhab, passing through about 75 percent of the other films.

“Theeb”, “An Iraqi Odyssey” and “For Sama” are British productions by Arab directors (directed by Naji Abu Nowar, Samir Jamal Al-Din and Ahed Al-Khatib, respectively). Many of the films of the Maghreb, such as “Mothers”, “We Love You Hadi”, “Babisha”, “Raih Rabbani”, etc. are films produced by French companies. The films of Nadine Labaki are German work, as are the films of Tunisian Kawthar Ben Hania, especially her last two films, “The Man Who Sold His Back” and “Banat Intimacy.”

Recently, we watched “Born from Paradise” by Tariq Saleh, and “The Two Swimmers” by Sally Al-Husseini. One is Danish and the other is British.

actual support

Of course, the matter is not devoid of local capital (they call it Seed Money), and in many cases there are Arab sponsors in varying proportions, but without the presence of foreign production, most of these films will not see the light of external distribution, and many of them will not find their way to festivals and opportunities to come out with awards, similar to what happened recently for films such as “Girls of Intimacy” and “On the Crater of a Volcano” and “The Mother of All Lies.” The initial capital for these films is Tunisian, Lebanese and Moroccan, but the actual support is German and French.

This happens for specific reasons that sometimes differ from country to country.

For example, a country that is experiencing severe economic crises, such as Lebanon, needs external financing. Some local production companies need foreign identities to facilitate marketing. Well-known directors, by making films financed from abroad, aim to establish their names in those foreign markets. However, the overarching reason lies in the fact that the domestic market of most Arab countries is not sufficient to secure the cost if it was available from within the country itself, let alone making some profits.

The weakness of the Arab market has other reasons, including the difficulty of dialects, the small number of cinemas, the disappearance of alternative distribution, the chaos of distribution to platforms and television stations, and the political problems that prevent films from some countries from reaching the markets of some other countries.

Some countries (such as Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) previously enjoyed such local industries, but that was before cinemas in many of their cities were converted into clothing stores or demolished in favor of building a building with a garage underneath. This happened for another additional reason, which is the fact that cinemas are no longer the only channel for showing films. Rather, home shows have become a dominant feature in Arab countries that until the end of the eighties were living in remarkable prosperity.

A scene from “The Parisian” (Le Filme Pellet).

the film

Clarification of these combined causes that constitute obstacles and impediments that prevent the film industry from flourishing within the borders of Arab countries (separately or collectively) leads us to study what most of these films provide to the foreign eye, which the foreign producer has the right to adopt as a motive for financing a film.

Is there a desire to watch a movie that employs fantasy away from reality in the manner of major fantasy films? Is he going to accept a comedy movie, even if it is good? Is it behind the creativity and excellence themselves? Does he want a movie about a successful individual and a happy society?

Most of the Arab films that have found their way to festivals and awards over the years (including prizes from the Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Locarno and other festivals) were those that deal with issues of crises that open the Western eye to the difficulties of living and miserable societies. Those that talk about afflicted women, men under burdens, unhappy environments, and political and emotional topics that fall under the taboo item.

Accordingly, a large number of those who write about films responded, and their writings searched for content and did not care about form, style, or the technical elements themselves. The content that does not make the film, no matter how important it is, but only tells it.

They are dominoes that, if properly laid, fall in succession: the producer needs financing. Finance needs a topic of interest to the foreign viewer. The two want a film to be shown in festivals. Everyone is not asking about the absent picture or about a correct assessment of social conditions, and certainly not about the positive side of anything Arab. In the end, you have the enthusiasm of some critics and writers without imagining or examining what is going on.

Arab directors have recently achieved a difference from the mainstream

A list of some directors who made their films (regardless of critical evaluation) within the boundaries of Arab cinema alone.

Shahd Amin: “The Lady of the Sea” (Saudi Arabia).

Muhammad Al-Salman: “The Crow’s Song” (Saudi Arabia).

Hakim Bel Abbas: “If they overthrow the walls,” (Morocco).

Hamid Ben Amra: “Kioko, the Harvest of Dreams” (Algeria).

Reda El Behi: “The Island of Forgiveness” (Tunisia).

Marwan Hamed: “Diamond Dust” (Egypt).

Youssef Chebbi: “Ashkal” (Tunisia).

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