What space is there for Arab and African films in Europe?


During the 25th edition of the Carthage Film Festival (Tunisia), a round table
focusing on the space devoted to Arab and African cinema in European theatres took
place, in the presence of various film professionals.
Participants at this roundtable of professionals held on 3 December 2014, included
international sales managers, buyers, distributors, broadcasters, producers and
filmmakers who sell or exhibit Arab and African films in Europe. And most of them
grew angry.

First of all, European film professionals claimed that film exhibition is globally
complicated. “The European Market is struggling with the dominance of American
movies,’ explained the German filmmaker Viola Shafik. “Only a third of European
productions end in theatrical release.’ With 20 movies released every week, it is
quite difficult for an unknown filmmaker or production company, from an unknown
country and with a low budget to catch the interest of distributors and movie

Television could be an opportunity but, as British producer and head of the Huston
School of Film & Digital Media (Ireland), Rod Stoneman underlines, “public service
broadcasting in Europe has been severely limited, if not eliminated, by neo-liberal
pro-market policies.’ When he worked for Channel 4 in the late 1990s, “with
purchases and pre-sales, we bought and provided production finance for over 50
African feature films in this period.’

What about DVD sales? “DVD was really interesting for distributors but it changed in
2007, said Fortissimo Films managing director Nelleke Driesse from Netherlands.
VOD is coming out but not raising enough. Look at Ritesh Batra’s Lunchbox success.
There were 30 other films from India at that time. Why did this one work? Because
of marketing. We have 20 movies a year. It’s a real challenge to have non-English
spoken movies.’

Film festivals could be a good place, according to the French producer and assistant
director Daniel Ziskind. But only if Arab and African films “go to a big film festival,
with a film market and sales opportunities. There cannot be a movie without a sale

Unfortunately, British curator Suzy Gillett, who worked on the Making Waves
workshop in Berlin, reminded the group of the reality: “Young people do not know
international sale managers. We introduce them to a distribution plans, trailers and

Because not so many movies from the Middle-East and Africa have visibility, copies,
advertising and box-office sales, a standardised kind of Arab or African movie has
been used and promoted to the audience to avoid risk taking. “The problem is that
normalised movies for Western audiences are claimed as standard for all the other
Arab and African films,’ noted Tunisian film critic and festival artistic director, Ikbal
Zalila. This is an awkward situation, regarding the diversity of productions coming
out of these regions. “Our societies are cosmopolitan,’ claimed Algerian producer
Mounes Khemmar. “We should get out from this Western perspective.’

By Claire Diao


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