Daniel Ziskind • Producer, Film Clinic
by Giorgia Cacciatore
- Cineuropa spoke to Paris-based producer Daniel Ziskind, who has been signed up as the European representative of Egyptian production company Film Clinic
With his long experience working with Egypt, Daniel Ziskind will contribute to strengthening Cairo-based production house Film Clinic's European partnerships. Ziskind, who will be in charge of co-production and sales activities in Europe, is an active member of MEDIS – the network of distributors and industry professionals operating in North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf — as well as a member of the Cinémathèque française and the European Producers Club.
Mohamed Hefzy’s Film Clinic has been producing some of the freshest, most envelope-pushing Arab movies to have come out in recent years. Ziskind’s first project with the production company is the controversial thriller Clash by Mohamed Diab (see the news). The second feature to be written and directed by the Egyptian filmmaker will start shooting shortly in Cairo.
Cineuropa met up with Ziskind to ask him for his take on Arab cinema.
Cineuropa: In your opinion, how important is it for European audiences to have access to Arab cultural products – especially ones dealing with topical issues, such as Clash – given that they are regularly exposed to the fairly negative view of the Arab world given by Western media?
Daniel Ziskind: We must listen to the Arab world and its cinema because what politics cannot achieve, culture and cinema can. I am struck by the general pessimism affecting part of the film industry in Europe at this time of retirement into oneself and fear of others, but what strikes me the most is the fierce determination of a new generation to make progressive films that speak to everyone. We have much to learn from these filmmakers, and they need our support.
Clash addresses a powerful subject: putting together pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood activists, liberals, people who are pro-army and government, an American journalist and an average Egyptian family that understands nothing of what is happening in the country, and forcing these people to interact with each other, makes for a subject that is relevant to any country going through profound changes.
I want to fight the negative image that is portrayed in some of the media and that is only the reflection of fear of the other. Coming from many cultures myself, and having a very open education, I believe in diversity. Cinema can and must talk to everyone.The European audience is very open to all kinds of cultures and is not naive. The negative image of the Arab world set out by lobby groups and the media cannot prevent this kind of cinema from existing.
Throughout your career as a producer, you have always made quite radical choices; what, in your opinion, are the benefits of dealing with highly controversial topics on such unconventional terms?
Cinema is a great tool for raising awareness, even when it tells a very simple story; speaking of a tragic event is already a radical choice.I am currently working on a project that I hope to announce at Cannes with Film Clinic, which is a comedy that takes place in Palestine. Comedy is a very effective way to deal with serious matters and is also very exportable.
You have been working very closely with Egypt; do you see your work as an effort to build a cultural bridge between France and Egypt, or more generally between Europe and the Arab world?
They have started calling me “Mr Egypt cinema” now. I have been reading Egyptian scripts for 11 years, but in thelast two years I have noticed a real change. Scripts have become more exportable, though without co-productions with Europe, some films could not be made and could not cross borders, unfortunately. Egypt is the cradle of Arab cinema, and Europe has a role to play.
I remain at the service of producers and directors; the rest is just a matter of having a good agenda and timing. The bridge between the Arab world and Europe happens by itself because a good script is above all a good story, wherever it may come from.
Do you think of cinema, or art in general, essentially as a political tool?
The Arab world does not have a film industry that exports as much as the Indian, American or European ones, and which speaks to all cultures. My aim is to help nurture this cinema; I am convinced that in the next ten years it will stand out and compete with the biggest Western productions. I certainly expect to see an Arab filmmaker selected in all the upcoming editions of the Berlin, Cannes and Venice Film Festivals.
I see cinema as a pleasure, and being an avid viewer, I want to be able to see films from every country in theatres. As for the difference this can make, if it can change mentalities and prejudices about the Arab world, then yes, I see cinema as a political tool.