Dubai, UAE, July 05, 2018: This month on CNN’s Inside the Middle East, host Becky Anderson examines how the Arab Film Industry was projected onto the world stage at the Cannes Film Festival - the largest international showcase of cinematic art.
2018 witnessed the largest presence of films from the region since the festival began in 1946, and for the first time ever, four Middle Eastern movies competed for the prestigious Palme d'Or Award. Inside the Middle East speaks to filmmakers and industry insiders to understand how Arab cinema has developed to be recognised on such a scale in Cannes.
CNN meets award-winning Lebanese actress and director Nadine Labaki, who has been acknowledged as the region’s most high-profile presence on the French Riviera in the last decade. Labaki tells the programme that this year she’s witnessed a noticeable difference and rise in the Arab film industry: “There's a change happening, and the industry is growing bigger. I think there's more and more interesting filmmakers that are expressing their point of view through their films. They are talking about the region, and eyes are on the region.”
Labaki was at Cannes promoting her new film Capharnaum, which explores the rights and lives of the children living on Lebanon’s streets. CNN hears that the film has been five years in the making, and how the reception to the film at the festival has led Labaki to be the second Arab woman to compete for the coveted Palme d'Or Award.
Perceived as a change in cinematic direction for Labaki, she explains what drove her to create the picture to Inside the Middle East: “When I started to write the film, I was thinking about the fact that you need to have a paper to exist in life. Modern slavery, children's rights. All these subjects were just things that I wanted to talk about… This is the higher aim of cinema. It's not only the made to entertain, but also to make you think and learn about things that you didn't know. Shed the light on certain problems and issues you didn't know about. This is exactly what drives me, the sense that I have the responsibility to change something.”
With a greater focus on Arabian film, CNN learns that Saudi Arabia is also embracing the spotlight and displaying their creative ambitions to the world’s film industry.
Following the opening of Saudi Arabia’s first movie theatre in over three decades in April this year, filmmakers such as the B Brothers are embracing the new opportunity for their work and bring their ambitions to the world via the Cannes Film Festival.
Last year, Hollywood actor John Travolta visited the Kingdom to celebrate Saudi Arabia’s new ambitions, he tells CNN: “[Saudi Arabia] had undergone 30 years of suppression on the arts and on sports. What you have there now is a liberation. Part of any good liberation is the arts being serviced and the level that they're attempting is enormous.”
Helping guide the Kingdom in a new cinematic age is Haifaa Al Mansour, a board member of Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Culture, whilst also being the country’s first female film director. Known predominantly for her debut film Wadjda - which was the first Saudi Arabian film submitted to the Academy Awards in 2013 - Al-Mansour is now looking to foster new homegrown talent by harnessing her own experiences as the country establishes its own film industry.
Al-Mansour tells Inside the Middle East: “It is wonderful to be a change that is towards art, that is what creates culture… I wasn't trying to be the first female filmmaker, I was just trying to follow a passion and that is what I tell people. It is not the recognition what you are after, it is making something that you really enjoy.”
For countries such as Saudi Arabia, the Cannes Film Festival not only allows the Kingdom to showcase its upcoming talents, but also permits for Arab filmmakers to network with producers, distributors and financiers behind-the-scenes.
“There's something happening in Saudi Arabia that is mobilising the industry and helping to grow the industry in the Arab world.” says Mohamed Hefzy, President of the Cairo International Film Festival.
Having helped finance some of the region’s most critically acclaimed films such as Clash, Hefzy is perceived as an integral part of the Arabian film industry. Hefzy explains to CNN how important networking and international exposure is for its long-term growth: “Well, Arab cinema has been to a certain extent helped by what's happened politically in the Arab world over the past six or seven years. Because there has been a spotlight on the Arab world in the media, the news, in politics… I see a lot of talent but it’s just about creating a support system that helps that talent to continue to produce good work at a bigger level. We have to find our own means to support our filmmakers and our industry and I think that is the key to sustainability.”
This year at Cannes, Yomeddine, a debut Arabian film directed by A.B. Shawky and supported by Hefzy, was nominated for a Palme d'Or – a moment of international recognition that further contributed to a landmark year for the Arab Film Industry. Hefzy tells CNN: “It’s a good time for Arab cinema; although there are other challenges that we can speak about in terms of funding, in terms of distribution, and in terms of being able to build a local market. I think that's still a big struggle. I think a bigger challenge is having international recognition which is starting to happen.”
As the festival concludes, Labaki tells Inside the Middle East that the idea of a first Arab Oscar winner or first Palme d'Or winner, is increasingly seen as a more realistic prospect: “I can see the change already happening… I feel the future of cinema in the Middle East is very bright, and I'm very positive.”
‘Inside the Middle East’ airs at the following times on CNN International:
Saturday 7th July at 1500 GST
Sunday 8th July at 0930 GST and 2230 GST
Wednesday 11th July at 1330 GST and 2030 GST
Saturday 14th July and 0930 GST and 2230 GST
Sunday 15th July at 1530 GST