We have seen at least three film festivals hosted in the Middle East in the last three months but I’m convinced that the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), which will run this month, will be the most successful of the lot — not because it is the oldest of the festivals or has had more time to learn from its previous mistakes, but because it knows how to engage the community and woo the right media to its shores.
When Dubai launched DIFF several years ago, it did get a couple of international names to run some parts of the show but it retained power in its own hands and let local filmmakers and leaders play a role in shaping it. As a result, local filmmakers who had dedicated themselves to the art were not made to look like second class citizens unworthy of sharing space with international indies. Instead, DIFF embraced both with open arms. Furthermore, it hosted the Gulf Film Festival (GFF) to ensure that local players had an even wider platform to showcase their films.
Officials at DIFF don’t shy away from cameras; they are happy to give you an interview if you want one and PR personnel don’t hang around to guard their clients from select media. Besides, there is greater transparency and openness in the way DIFF operates.
DIFF has also been careful to attract both the tabloids and the trade media to its event.
While the tabloids are not to be dismissed, the event organisers have not forgotten the role regional trade titles dedicated to the TV and film industry play in ensuring that local filmmakers get mileage in this market, where they will most likely ply their skills in the future.
Unfortunately, few other regional film festivals have recognised this. As a result, celebrities walking the red carpet take up most of the air space at their events while local filmmakers or regional talent are given only token mentions.
This must change. Film festival organisers must brief their PR personnel on the importance that regional trade titles play in covering such events. While the tabloids and international media will, no doubt, cover the glitz and glamour and also carry sarcastic opinion pieces on oil rich countries flush with money, it’s the trade titles that will serve to introduce regional talent to the local production industry and bring the two together for projects.
The workshops and conferences that governments invest in to encourage local production will only bear fruit when some of those budding filmmakers gain visibility in a workspace that will most likely absorb them.
Trade publications play a key role. It’s something that DIFF has understood, respected and appreciated.
It’s something that other regional festivals must also acknowledge to ensure that their efforts benefit the local film community.