Talk about great timing. Abu Dhabi-based Twofour54 couldn’t have picked a better moment to partner with international film festival concept Tropfest to create Tropfest Arabia 2011, a short film festival for aspiring filmmakers from the region.
Twofour54 is a government initiative aimed at developing a sustainable Arabic media industry across all platforms.
Founded by Australian director John Polson, Tropfest started off as a screening for 200 people in a Sydney café and has since grown to become the world’s largest short film festival.
Rather than focusing on scriptwriting and professional filming techniques, Tropfest emphasizes creativity and innovation, creating an accessible platform for those new to filmmaking, or filmmakers who have never participated in festivals, to take the next step.
Short film provides an ideal platform for telling the proliferation of stories emerging from the ongoing Arab Spring.
“If you look at how people typically get into media industry, it’s often through short film,” Paul Venn, head of communications at Twofour54 and director of Tropfest Arabia 2011, told Daily News Egypt.
Venn explains that making a short film has never been easier, given the proliferation of smart phones with high quality cameras, and the wide availability of editing software.
“The 2005 New York winner made the winning film entirely on a mobile phone, and the most recent Tropfest Australia winner made the film at his house for $85. There’s no reason someone here can’t do the same thing,” he added.
To build awareness about Tropfest Arabia and provide resources for new filmmakers, the team held workshops in cities throughout the region, including Cairo and Alexandria. The Egypt workshops, held last month, drew a crowd of nearly 400 people of all ages and from all walks of life.
At the Egypt workshops, Venn screened former winning Tropfest films for the audience to drive home the message that Tropfest is about creativity and innovation, not professional filming techniques and scriptwriting. Venn was joined by local filmmakers Ayten Ameen, Amr Salama and Mohamed Diab, who shared their personal experiences in the industry with the attendees.
“I judge success by the amount of laughter, and there was laughter. If people are laughing they’re listening, so there was clearly a large amount of engagement at the workshops,” Venn said.
Although Egypt has long boasted a vibrant art scene, with film a particularly strong discipline, recent events have bolstered enthusiasm about the arts, encouraging more people to tell their stories.
“It’s difficult to say how exactly recent events have impacted film, but it would be naïve to say it hasn’t. Film is about telling stories and there are more stories to tell now; it’s up to filmmakers to decide how they will tell their story and create a great film,” he continued.
The submission deadline for Tropfest Arabia is September 22. The winner will be chosen at a live event in Abu Dhabi on November 4, where the shortlisted films will be screened for a panel of judges and the public. So far, the regional reception of Tropfest has been encouraging, and two films have already been submitted well ahead of the deadline — a Tropfest first. Venn believes the festival will receive over 200 submissions this year.
The Twofour54 team is already looking ahead to building on what already looks to be a great success with Tropfest Arabia 2011 by expanding workshops to more locations across the region. With a couple months left before the deadline, Venn and the team are doing everything they can to spread the word and engage as many regional filmmakers as possible.
“This is my message to filmmakers: don’t think it’s not for you. If there’s one thing I’ve realized over the past three months, it’s how easy it is to make a film. It’s an exciting way to engage with the media and tell a story. The Arab world is known for its storytelling and I invite people to take advantage of this opportunity to tell theirs.”
More information about Tropfest Arabia available at tropfestarabia.com