Friday, October 31, 2008

The Middle East International Film Festival

I recently had the great pleasure of serving as a juror at the Middle East International Film Festival, held in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, from October 12 – 19. The Middle East Film Festival, in its second year now, was organized to bring together filmmakers from all over the world, particularly filmmakers from the Middle East. It’s part of the country’s multi-pronged approach to building a film industry from the ground up in Abu Dhabi. That approach includes building studio space to attract film production, offering budding filmmakers a focused education through the soon-to-be opened New York Film Academy, and providing financing for both international and local films.

MEIFF Director of Programming Jon Fitzgerald (who was also the founder of the Slamdance Film Festival) put together a fabulous line-up of Hollywood films, Bollywood Films, and student films, which shared the venues with a smorgasbord of films from the Middle East. The festival was headquartered at the stunning Emirates Palace, a luxurious seven- star hotel in the heart of Abu Dhabi; additional screens at the nearby Marina Mall and the Abu Dhabi Mall were also enlisted for the eight days of non-stop film showings. Hollywood star power was in residence, with Actor Adrien Brody and Director Rian Johnson present for the Opening Night Film, “The Brothers Bloom.” Susan Sarandon participated in a “Spotlight on Women” panel about environmental and cultural issues facing women throughout the world, which were addressed in the film “The Shape of Water,” which Ms. Sarandon had narrated. Catherine Deneuve participated in a debate about humanitarian concerns in Lebanon; and Jane Fonda was there to receive the Cinema Verite Lifetime Achievement Award. Famous Egyptian actress Youssra served on the Feature Jury.

At MEIFF, Middle Eastern film was represented by films from the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Palestine, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Nashwa Al-Ruwaini, the Executive Director of MEIFF introduced many of the films and filmmakers. Of course the government of Abu Dhabi supported this effort, led by Sheikh Sultan Bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Chair of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.

I am probably not alone when I say that MEIFF took networking and hospitality to a whole different level, with some of the best parties ever hosted at a film festival. After the last screening of the evening, festival participants would gather in the gardens outside the Emirates Palace, overlooking the Arabian Gulf, for entertainment that was truly out of 1001 Arabian Nights. At the Bedouin Party, festivalgoers lounged on couches in Bedouin tents and smoked shisha (Arabic tobacco) with a water pipe (hookah); camel rides were offered to the daring, animal lovers could get up close and personal with a trained falcon, and a sensational belly dancer entertained the captivated audience. On Bollywood Night, we were treated to the ritualized, gracious dance of India; and after the screening of the documentary “Youssou N’Dour: I Bring What I Love,” N’Dour himself, one of Africa’s most adored musicians, gave a concert, accompanied by his band. The Middle Eastern cuisine, the hospitality, and the graciousness of our hosts was truly incomparable.

It is amazing that oil was only discovered in the Emirates in the 1970s. They are now the world’s 10th largest producer of oil—and of course it has transformed their society. It was an eye-opening, mind-bending experience to witness this transformation, and to be part of the blossoming culture of film, art and architecture in the UAR.

Congress Extends Federal Tax Incentive

The Section 181 tax incentive has been extended through December 2009. This program which was first enacted in 2004 was extended and enhanced by being attached to the $700 billion financial markets rescue plan passed by Congress.

The new legislation improves upon the prior law by applying the tax incentive to the first $15 million of all motion picture productions in the USA. The prior legislation was flawed because this threshold amount included all costs, including difficult to predict residuals and participations. This quirk in the law made it risky to accept the incentive if your budget plus these extras might exceed $15 million.

The new provisions are retroactive to January 2008.

Film L.A. has new Online Permit System

FilmL.A. is a nonprofit organization that coordinates and processes permits for on-location motion picture, television and commercial production in the Los Angeles region. FilmL.A has a new Online Permit System (OPS), which will change how permits to film on-location are applied for, coordinated and delivered. Applicants will be able to apply online and create and save templates for future applications, receive instant confirmation that permit applications were received, track permit progress and status of agency approvals in real-time and download paid-for and finalized permits at their convenience.

Additional information at:

Middle East International Film Festival (MEIFF)

Mark will be serving on the short film jury at the upcoming MEIFF from October 10-19 in Abu Dhabi. The festival celebrates world cinema by presenting quality films from across the globe. Competition sections include world premiere screenings and highlight up-and-coming films making a splash on the festival scene. Gala screenings and the Festival of Festivals showcase new work by established filmmakers and films that have garnered prestigious awards.

Additional info:

Libel Tourism Bill Passed

The House of Representatives passed a bill that would prohibit U.S. courts from enforcing foreign libel judgments that undercut First Amendment rights. The law is designed to address the phenomenon known as “libel tourism,” or the exploitation of defamation laws in foreign countries that lack the broad protections of free speech guaranteed by the First Amendment in the United States.
The bill was introduced as a result of a lawsuit involving New York author Rachel Ehrenfeld. She was sued in Britain by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi Arabian businessman, for her book “Funding Evil: How Terrorism Is Financed and How to Stop It.” Ehrenfeld lost the libel suit, and as a result the New York Legislature passed a law preventing state courts from recognizing foreign libel judgments.

The New York law was the first of its kind in the United States. "As our world becomes more and more interconnected, we need new laws to ensure that Americans’ First Amendment rights won’t be hindered by more restrictive, foreign mandates," Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee said. The bill will prohibit domestic courts from recognizing or enforcing foreign defamation judgments unless the domestic court finds that the foreign judgment comports with our First Amendment.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has applauded Congressman Cohen’s legislation, and the bill has already received wide, bipartisan support in the House Judiciary Committee.