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Arab filmmakers struggle for funds as industry grows

By Tamara Walid

DOHA (Reuters) - Wealthy Arab funds, eager to buy up distressed film assets abroad, should spend their money closer to home where filmmakers are struggling to find funding and distribution channels, according to industry experts.

Film festivals have sprung up in the Gulf Arab region in recent years with events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. The latest, Robert De Niro's Doha Tribeca, just ended a four-day run in Qatar's capital.

But despite the heightened exposure, Arab filmmakers say the focus is still on Hollywood and European films with little attention -- or funding -- given to homegrown films.

"A $2 million Arab motion picture cannot raise its money out of the Arab world, if Egypt is not a great contributor," said Tunisian producer and distributor Tarak Ben Ammar.

"The real question is, will oil money go to Arab culture or will it go to Hollywood?"

Ammar, who distributed Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" and runs production studios in his native Tunisia, said film festivals were useful for developing a film culture in the region, but meant little without financing.

UAE capital Abu Dhabi, flush with oil money, is pushing state-owned entities to pick up bargains globally to diversify the emirate's economy.

Abu Dhabi Media Company is eyeing investment opportunities in film-making as hedge funds abandon Hollywood and studios scramble to raise new financing, the company's chief executive said last year.

In Qatar, Alnoor Holdings launched a $200-million fund this week to invest in film projects amid tight financing in the wake of the financial crisis and plans to focus on Hollywood.

Palestinian filmmaker Najwa Najjar, whose latest film "Pomegranates and Myrrh" screened at the Tribeca festival, said Gulf funds were desperately needed to make high quality movies that would grab the attention of a larger audience.

The lack of experienced development executives in the region is also hampering the industry which sees the biggest production in Egypt. The North African country has been the Hollywood of the Arab world for decades, producing more films and television series annually than the rest of the region combined.

"We have a group of very creative filmmakers (and) we have the people who are putting in the money and creating film funds," said Jordanian filmmaker Rami Yasin.

"In between, there's a massive gap of development executives who understand creative content and know how to access the funds."

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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