Rise of Middle East Cinema… Or Is It?

Dubai theater

It’s been an exciting time for Arab cinema… but the excitement should be bounded. Lots of festivals are taking place, IMAX has installed screens in Lebanon and Jordan, and runaway productions have been shooting in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.  The region has also seen the emergence of two film funds specifically, meaning those devoted entirely to film development and financing. The region can become a movie hub!

While all this is positive, it does not capture the complexity of building the media industry infrastructure, and in such a vital region as the Middle East. The Middle East has had a film and television industry primarily in Egypt and Lebanon, while the greater Arab market has had advertising and social media industries. What is happening now in the film industry is a rush to organize film festivals, dispense grants, and hold screenings for established or rising filmmakers– not what is the core of the industry. This is talent agencies, film schools, and more funding schemes.

One cannot overstate the cultural, economic, and industry importance of the Middle East, and for many industries. For the vital media and film sector, it is crucial. Film and media are indispensable for artistic development, industry growth, and talent promotion. In the Middle East, key challenges still remain:

  • the limited and difficult funding for feature films,
  • the logistical and administrative difficulties of shooting films,
  • the often subjective criteria of film grant proposals, and
  • the fragmentation of filmmaker communities.

This site caters to that last need, or gap, in the media infrastructure. The absence of talent agencies in the Middle East, outside of a handful of small ones in Dubai and Egypt, is a gap. Filmmakers in the Middle East usually work within their small networks and learn of opportunities and gigs through them.

Another issue is that film production is entirely dependent on heavy funding; the GCC have it and all other countries in the Middle East (with two exceptions) have no such resources. So the enthusiasm over the growth of cinema in the region can be exaggerated. Audiences in the key markets in the region have their own cultural tastes so it would not be easy for them to respond to movies from other countries.

Another issue is the political undertone of many films, documentaries, and shorts in the Middle East market, especially outside of Egypt (Omar, Lebanon, Gaza 36 MM, Where Do We Go Now). This has become a staple of Middle East cinema. There are far more issues and themes to explore in Middle East cinema than the political, which has become the standard.

The result has been an uneven film terrain and infrastructure, and that too many filmmakers do not get a chance. This can be funding, training, internships, or apprenticeships. That’s a major reason this site exists– to give people a chance to be discovered!