Arab TV creators will get the chance to pitch to executives from Netflix, AMC and CAA during the Cairo Film Festival.
With the demand for premium localized content continuing to rise thanks to the growth of streaming platforms, a group of Arab TV creators are now being given the chance to pitch their projects directly to Arab and U.S. TV executives.
The pitching event — the first of its kind in the Middle East — is set to take place at the recently launched 2019 edition of the Cairo Film Festival, as part of its second annual Cairo Industry Days program, with the participation of the USC School of Cinematic Arts' Middle East Media Initiative MEMI.
The TV creators are all alumni of MEMI's TV development program, and will pitch to executives from AMC, CAA, Netflix and Stampede Ventures, among others.
"This is an incredible opportunity for both buyers and content creators in the region to directly interface with each other," said Rachel Gandin Mark, co-founder of MEMI, which is supported by the U.S. Department of State. "This direct access will be groundbreaking in terms of establishing a precedent for writer-driven TV content in the region. This is planting the seeds for a regional Arab television market in the future."
"We're currently in a fortunate period in our industry where buyers are answering the call of audiences to give them meaningful stories that come from every corner of the world, regardless of language and geographic setting," said Dov Mamann, co-head of international production at Stampede Ventures. "I am eager to meet the best seasoned and emerging talent the Arab TV world has to offer at the Cairo event."
Over the past two years, MEMI's programming has supported top Arab TV writers in developing a slate of character-driven, complex storylines, including those that engage the region's social issues such youth alienation, women's empowerment, corruption, and minority rights. Many MEMI alumni are taking on these topics in new genres and formats not traditionally seen in Arab TV programming.
“gave me an entire community of Arab writers who support me, honed my skills so I could gain confidence, then expanded my network so that I can continue to write and produce in the region," said Lebanese TV writer Nadia Tabbara whose series, Awake, is currently on regional VOD provider OSN. Now, because of MEMI's continued efforts, I get the chance to pitch my projects to regional and international giants."
Everything is delayed, canceled, or on hold at the moment due to the coronavirus COVID-19, which means that film festivals are having to make some tough choices. Cannes is postponed. SXSW was canceled, but they recently announced they would try to put together an online film festival with Amazon Prime Video. TIFF has yet to make a decision one way or another, but festival runners Joana Vicente and Cameron Bailey mentioned last week that they were considering a potential digital festival. Digital film festivals are a distinct possibility in several locations, but there’s one fest that has flat-out refused to go digital: the Venice Film Festival.
With the coronavirus continuing to upend film festivals across the globe, some are wondering if virtual, online film festivals might be the solution for the time being. And while some fests – SXSW, TIFF – are open to this idea, the Venice Film Festival isn’t having it. Speaking with Variety, a Venice spokesperson said: “The Venice Film Festival cannot be replaced by an online event,” adding that “there is obviously the possibility that we use technology for some initiatives, [but] it’s too early for this to be decided.”
The Venice Film Festival is supposed to run in September, and as of now, everyone involved with the fest is still operating under the assumption that the festival is still on. Organizers have put out a call for “projects for its Final Cut in Venice co-production workshop dedicated to supporting works from the Middle East and Africa, currently scheduled to be held during the fest.”
Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera was quoted as saying he and his team “are working just the same as in past years” and that they “cannot provide specifics about the future.” The only thing they can confirm is that no matter what happens, the festival will not go digital. While some are more than happy to accept the idea of a digital festival – no travel fees! – not everyone is okay with the idea. For one thing, if a film without distribution were to debut digitally and then immediately be pirated, it would hurt its chances at eventual purchase. Plus, many filmmakers and producers long for that festival buzz that can only be achieved by screening titles for a live audience.
But we remain in uncharted territory for the moment, and it’s unclear just when the coronavirus situation will end. As of now, Italy remains in strict lockdown, and if that continues into the fall, there’s very little chance the Venice Film Festival will go off as planned.