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Shivani Pandya on Dubai's next ten years

Shivani Pandya on Dubai's next ten years

By Stephen Cremin

Sun, 15 December 2013, 22:55 PM (HKT)

Festival News

During the 10th Dubai International Film Festival (6-14 Dec 2014), Film Business Asia sat down with its managing director, Shivani PANDYA, to talk about its successes, its vision going forward and its contribution to film culture in the region.

Has the direction of the festival changed in the last decade?
We've had a clear vision from the very beginning. We were set up as a cultural event for the people of Dubai and the region. But we also wanted to help create an industry, to take a look at where Arab films were and to help them move forward. But we didn't want to do too much. We made Arab cinema our core focus because there was no competition in the region specifically focused on it. We wanted Arab films to have a showcase, not just the one or two that were breaking out and getting featured in other festivals. After ten years, Arab cinema is now traveling; even at the bigger festivals, there are more Arab films now. We definitely contributed to that change.

And how will things change in the second decade?
The next ten years are very important ones for the festival. We'll continue to have a regional focus. Arab cinema will remain at the heart, but we'll also be looking to strengthen the position of the festival in the global scheme of things. Geographically, we're in the right location to support Arab cinema, Asian cinema and African cinema. The regions do lots of trade through Dubai, so it's the natural place for them to come together. If we present the right platform, we will be the region's cinematic centre.

The Dubai festival has been on one track with the same management and the same artistic director throughout its life, so the dynamics are great. We've not had changing goalposts. We'll obviously shift gears and there will be exciting new things in the years ahead. This year, we have a bigger market and we launched the Cinematic Innovation Summit. We plan to take forward what has been working for us. And we want to position ourselves as a global power.

What is the biggest accomplishment this past decade?
When we started the festival, we never imagined that people would recognise us in ten years. We're really proud of that. The biggest accomplishment is becoming a destination for business when really the regional industry is still in its nascent stages. As a direct result, a lot of cinemas are being built and box office is going up. Within the United Arab Emirates, Dubai has the highest number of cinema admissions.

How has local film culture changed?
The festival has had a resounding effect on the industry itself, changing the kind of films being released here. Before, it was only action-packed films coming to theatres, with just one or two specialist art house cinemas in operation. And we're proud of the fact that we've been able to increase the number of films being produced in the region. The festival has supported 243 projects in the last few years, of which 96 have been produced.

What's really exciting for me is that 40% of the Arab film-makers with films at this year's festival are women. The first Saudi Arabian film by a female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour's Wadjda, won a prize in Dubai last year and found distribution in the United States. The film started its life in Dubai at the Gulf Film Festival. She was mentored on her script, and went on to win a grant from us at the post-production stage. And we supported the production of Omar this year, which was our opening film.

What could you do better?
We could do with better structure on the film financing side. We're not a fund. We have some programmes that support films. We just feel that that's something we could push more. We have the market established now and we want to expand that to become more of a meeting place for people in the film business. My ambition would be for Dubai to become an important destination for everybody in the industry but it has to be done slowly. So we will start with supporting people from the region.

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