Only in London
A CHAT WITH YASMIN EL DERBY, CO-FOUNDER & DIRECTOR OF THE LONDON MENA FILM FESTIVAL
This October will see the launch of the highly-anticipated MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Film Festival in London. I recently caught up with Yasmin El Derby, the festival’s Co-Founder and Director to find out more about this wonderful initiative.
What is the impetus behind the London MENA Film Festival? What are its main objectives?
The initial idea for the London MENA Film Festival came out of a personal obsession with film, and the fact that I am part of the MENA diaspora myself, being half Egyptian and Half English. I noticed that there was an extreme lack of films from the MENA region being shown here in London, and I assumed that there must be a film festival for the region in the UK. I had searched and searched, but found nothing. Mind you, this concept was conceived before Shubbak and a few of the other initiatives that have now been created.
The driving force behind the creation of the London MENA Film Festival was the need to get films from the MENA region accessible to the British public, and to give filmmakers from the region and the diaspora a platform to showcase their works and talent. A huge focus of the film festival is not only to bring people together – whether they be from the diaspora or not – but also to connect the different diaspora communities and establish a positive network of creative, intelligent people.
Were you involved in any similar projects before?
The short answer is no! I was previously a bit of a butterfly in terms of work and projects, and was involved in many things! I have a background in film – I studied it for my undergraduate degree, and I went on to study African Studies at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) for my Master’s degree. The two became linked as I worked on a few Media for Development projects in both Kenya and Uganda.
In which venues will the festival be taking place in London? How many films are you expecting to screen?
Furthermore, I have also been involved in a few other film-related projects. I was recently the producer of a short film made for a human rights organization, and I have also recently worked on the pre-production of a potential new epic television series. As well as currently working on my very first documentary film, I am also involved with a new initiative called BASIRA, a project which aims to screen films from the MENA region that deal with human rights issues on a monthly basis.
The traditional status quo of Egypt being the leader in cinema production is being challenged
We have four brilliant venues on board for the 2012 festival, namely, the Tricycle Cinema (25th, 26th, & 27th October), the Frontline Club (29th October), SOAS (30th October) and the Leighton House Museum (31st October; 1st & 2nd November). We expect to screen between 15 to 20 films, including features, feature length documentaries, short films, short documentaries, and animated films in all shapes and sizes!
In addition to the screenings, will there be any other events held as part of the festival?
We hope to have as many Q+A sessions with filmmakers and panel discussions as possible, as well as a couple of possible workshops with our LMFF ambassadors (Egyptian director Mohamed Khan, Jordanian actor Nadim Sawalha, British-Moroccan actor Nabil Elouahabi, Emirati director Mariam Al Serkal, and British Egyptian director Sally El Hossaini). We also hope to hold a networking event for people within the industry to connect with business representatives who are either from the region, or work there.
Which films at the festival are you particularly excited about?
We have had some absolutely brilliant films submitted! I am extremely excited about many of them. I cannot give anything away at this stage, as the programming is taking place now … but watch this space and be prepared for some fascinating cinema!
From where does the festival source its funds? Has funding ever been an obstacle in bringing the festival to fruition? What support (if any) do you receive from the Government?
At this stage, the festival receives no funding from any sources. Last year’s festival was funded completely by myself and Co-founder Mohsin Lahkim, as well as some very kind supporters who did us some great favours. The whole festival was put together on an absolute shoestring budget! Funding for the 2012 festival has been a big obstacle. We really want to bring as many filmmakers over as we can to interact with audiences, but finances are a bit of a problem! We are currently searching for any type of funding or sponsorship, so if anyone is willing …
How would you describe the current state of Arab cinema? What themes and topics are most prevalent?
The current state of Arab cinema is extremely exciting! There is so much change going on within the region – both politically and culturally – and this is having a huge impact on cinema. Through our 2012 submissions we have seen many films focusing on the recent revolutions in the region, as well as on human rights issues. The traditional status quo of Egypt being the leader in cinema production is being challenged. Let there be no misunderstanding – Egypt is still a huge producer of film, and some absolutely brilliant cinema is still coming out of the country – but countries like Jordan are also becoming key players. As well, with the creation of organisations such as the Doha Film Institute in Qatar, there has been a huge surge of films being made within the UAE.
What do you envision the future of the festival to be? Do you see it eventually becoming a regular occurrence, like Shubbak, for instance?
The future for the festival is bright (we hope)! We envisage the festival to run each year and be a prestigious event in the film industry and in the calendars of film lovers everywhere. We also hope to expand the festival to include events that run throughout the whole year – not just during festival time – and to include workshops, talks and live music events promoting all that is good about connecting people from all walks of life!
The London MENA Film Festival will run between October 25 – November 2, 2012.
Joobin Bekhrad (BBA, MSc.) is the Founder and Editor of REORIENT, as well as the Co-Founder of artclvb, an online platform for contemporary Middle Eastern art. He is also the author of a new translation of Omar Khayyam's poems from Persian into English.
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