New company assembles veterans to drive growth of Arab cinema - Kogonuso

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Oct 8, 2018

New company assembles veterans to drive growth of Arab cinema

A new company that seeks to encourage global recognition of Arab cinema and to support the media and entertainment industry in the GCC has been launched.
Founded by Shivani Pandya Malhotra, the former managing director of Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), and Mohammed Saeed Harib, chairman of Lammtara Art Production, NearEast Entertainment will offer strategic marketing services and consultancy to the film and entertainment industry.
Situated within the cavernous headquarters of Lammtara in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, NearEast has already assembled an impressive team of industry veterans. Among them are Jane Williams, the former head of DIFF’s Dubai Film Connection, and Antoine Khalife, the festival’s director of Arab programming.
With a focus on TV, music, film, arts and live events, the aim is to deliver cultural initiatives and events from ideation to execution. NearEast will also strive to help filmmakers from the region to secure financing, build all-important connections with film professionals from across the industry, and assist with publicity to ensure that films from the Arab world are seen by global audiences.
Combined with Lammtara’s production capabilities, it is hoped that NearEast will be able to further drive cinematic growth in the region. “What works really well for us is that we’ve got the content creation, we’ve got content production, and now we’ve got content management,” Malhotra said. “We’ve covered all the different aspects of content.”

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Arab cinema is attracting increasing interest as Gulf states including the UAE and Saudi Arabia step up investment in production in an attempt to develop a homegrown industry.

The company is also aiming to bring a diverse range of international films to the region, supporting studios with their MENA theatrical releases through publicity support and regional insight. “We know there’s an opportunity because the market’s really grown,” said Malhotra. “If you look at the figures for the UAE, today we’re talking about almost 600 theaters coming into play by 2020. When we set up DIFF there were just 14, so the whole market’s changed.
“The highest box office takings are out of the UAE, with Dubai being the center.
“The studios are looking at Dubai and a lot of them have offices here, even if they’re satellite offices, so it’s really interesting to see how everything is evolving and changing. So for us it’s a matter of plugging into that growth and doing what we think is necessary.”
Harib, who is best known as the creator of popular animated TV series “Freej,” agrees. “From my own experience, if you carve your own niche you can succeed,” he said. “When I started out, animation was almost non-existent as a business here. Now look at it. And I think this is true of what we’re trying to do with NearEast — to really carve a niche and specialize and be something for someone who needs it.”
The company is already working on a couple of projects, although it is unwilling to disclose what they are at present. Harib is also working on the production of a theatrical show and recently completed his first live action film.
“I was saying to Mohammed that I’m only going to do what I like,” said Malhotra with a laugh. “Identify everything we like and that’s what we’ll work on.
“We are looking at championing a couple of projects at first. We can’t do it for anybody and everybody, but if there’s a project that we feel has merit we will help them champion the entire route. It would be a case of saying, ‘This is how it needs to be structured, have they got their treatment right, how does it need to be presented, what are the various avenues?’.
“If we are involved in executive producing in any manner, then we’ll also be writing to various funds and going through the entire rigamarole that is required to get a project out. Sometimes I think it’s the lack of experience that people have in presenting that stops a project from happening. They might have a really good concept and a really good project, but just the lack of wherewithal or the experience that would allow them to take it further.”
Although a primary focus is the UAE, NearEast will be serving the Middle East and North Africa, with Saudi Arabia of particular interest.
“It’s hard to ignore the Saudi entertainment market and all the changes that are happening,” said Harib. “As a filmmaker or content creator there are a lot of opportunities from that side, so we’re looking at who can we partner up with, what can we present, what is useful there, what kind of things would they like, and we have a lot of options to offer. We’re preparing that for the Saudi market from a content creation point of view.”
What is certain is that audiences are hungry for compelling content, whether it’s films, episodic shows, apps or events. “It’s going to be uphill,” admitted Malhotra. “The market’s difficult — there are lots of challenges there — but I really feel that we could make a difference. I’m passionate about it and we all are hard-working, so I’m hoping that between the passion and the hard work we will be able to achieve what we set out to.”
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