“We have so much to offer, and this is just the beginning – not even the first page, but the contents page”
Industry Report: Europe and the Rest of the World
Emad Z Eskander • Head, Red Sea Fund
by Ola Salwa
The filmmaker and fund head discusses the projects supported so far and why it’s worth working with the Saudi Arabian industry
Cineuropa chatted to filmmaker Emad Z Eskander, head of the Red Sea Fund, about why it’s worth working with the Saudi Arabian industry and what the rules are for doing so.
Cineuropa: The Red Sea Fund has been operating for less than three years and has already supported 242 projects. How many of them have an international or a European component?
Emad Z Eskander: In a way, our fund is exclusive to the Arab world and Africa, but at least 70% of these projects – especially from Africa – have producers, co-producers or distributors that are usually European, from all across the continent. So, out of these 242 projects, around 50-60 are Saudi, and the rest are international. The only hidden agenda that our fund has is to bring international expertise here. During a panel held here [about working with the Arab world], I was pushing for the locals, the Saudis, to look for producers from outside [the country] because we’re missing that. We do have some great producers, but that’s not enough. If we want to build an industry, we need more of them.
The fund has a rule that a director needs to come from the Arab world or Africa. Are there any other rules or requirements, like the number of shooting days that need to take place here?
No – for now, we’re not asking for the film to be shot in Saudi or have any kind of spending [here]. At this stage, we're about having and making good films. We don't want to impose anything yet, just because we're giving out money.
The Red Sea Fund is part of the Red Sea International Film Festival, so how does it position itself in the eco-system of the regional, Arab film industry? There are other initiatives like Cairo Film Connection, for example.
When we came up with our calendar, we looked at the funding opportunities for applying for post-production, production and development [support], and we put all of these festivals in the calendar and worked around that. So, we're trying to make sure that we don't fight each other in terms of our schedules. If you notice the timing, although a lot of festivals push to come earlier in the year, we [at Red Sea] were okay with coming later, so we wouldn’t cross paths with other gatherings that have such a rich heritage, and which we are there to support.
Other than that, as the Red Sea Fund, we’re in Cairo, Durban and Venice. Or, if we’re just talking about the Arab ones, it’s El Gouna and FESPACO – that’s where we go with award funding. We support them in that way: we're partners with them on a level where we go to their project market, we attend the pitches, and then we organise awards with them.
Apart from the money that you provide as the Red Sea Fund, what would you say is the reason for European artists and producers to come to the region to work with local directors and local talent?
First of all, [it’s because of] the region and Saudi itself, which has been more open to the media for the last ten years. I believe what brings people here is that interest. Because we are all curious, like you – you came here to a Saudi film festival to check it out and see how authentic it is. And everybody comes here and is surprised by the authenticity, by the energy, by the young people, by the concepts. So there is a lot to dig into. We have so much to offer. And this is just the beginning – not even the first page, but the contents page.
Films supported by the Red Sea Fund have been presented and won awards at the Berlinale, Cannes and Toronto. It’s therefore already proven to be a huge success. What is your next goal?
For a fund that is two-and-a-half years old, to have had seven movies at Cannes, including an opening film, and five of them winning awards is quite exceptional. And obviously, all the credit goes to the filmmakers – it’s their concepts, their stories – and our selection committee members, who dive deep into these projects. For the future, what we need is sustainability so that this success will not just be a one-off thing. And it's not just about winning awards. Good films are good films to begin with. Because how many films didn't do so well at the beginning, but after a couple of years, everybody was talking about them?
We need to see what we’ve done well and what we’ve done wrong. We need to highlight the areas for improvement, because there are a lot of them. I would be lying if I said we were perfect. There are many things we can do to attract film buffs and [script] readers from the region who are willing to be part of the fund’s panel.
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