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Filmmakers from Middle East, Nigeria, Mexico, New Zealand, and Kazakhstan Visit UCLARand Soares (second from right) gives international filmmakers tour of UCLA's television stages.

Filmmakers from Middle East, Nigeria, Mexico, New Zealand, and Kazakhstan Visit UCLA

UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television serves as locus for informal discussions of trends in global film and video industry.

By Gohar Grigorian

Two international delegations from the television and film industry representing nine countries visited the International Institute recently as part of U.S. State Department programs to promote understanding of U.S. culture. The visitors came from Oman, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, and Kazakhstan.

Independent Film and Video Production

 The first group, on January 23, explored independent film and video production in the United States. The group consisted of six distinguished visitors from the Middle East:  Malalah Darwish Al Bulushi, of Oman, director of television and cinema of Oman TV; Kahlid Abdul Rahim Al Zadjali, also of Oman, director of the drama division of Oman TV; Ahmed Mohamed Rashwan El Nagar, of Egypt, owner and manager of Dream Productions, Egypt's first privately owned satellite network; Marwan Wahid Hamed, also of Egypt, a film director; Elie Khalife, of Lebanon, and instructor of film making at the Acadamie Libanaise de Beaux Arts and the owner of Taxi Films; and Dimitri Khodr, also of Lebanon, a consultant to Heya Television (the "Arab Women's Channel").

Jonathan Friedlander, Assistant Director of the International Institute's Center for Near Eastern Studies (CNES), briefed the delegation on the mission of the CNES and its work with the UCLA Film and TV Archive in promoting the showing of Middle Eastern cinema. He also discussed the use of Middle Eastern films in teaching Middle Eastern languages -- from providing cultural context to language study to improve proficiency in Arabic, Armenian, Hebrew, Persian, and Turkish. He also noted UCLA'st interest in purchasing the works of Middle Eastern filmmakers for the purposes of instruction, research, and outreach.

The visitors also met with Barbara Boyle, chair of the Department of Film, Television, and Digital Media, with whom they discussed new technologies, and with Ann Kerr, coordinator of the Fulbright program at the International Institute; and Christopher Coppel, director of operations of the School of Theater, Film, and Television (TFT).

For their part, the visitors discussed strategies of independent film and video production and distribution in the Middle East. The Middle East has a long tradition of making movies, stretching back to the 1890s when the Qajar court of Iran made movies for itself. But, as with Hollywood, the real success of Middle Eastern cinema lay on a foundation of  films for a mass audience. By 1917, Egypt, for example, had nearly one hundred movie theaters, and by 1925 Egypt produced its first movie, a melodrama, a form that became immensely popular throughout the Middle East. By the 1950s, the Middle East had emerged as a vital center of cinematic production, ranking second only to India in the number of films produced each year. However, as in many other parts of the world, competition from Hollywood proved formidable, and audiences increasingly seemed to favor imported films. For example, in Morocco in 1959, of 2,267 films in circulation, 1,061 were American, 492 French, 347 Egyptian, 108 Indian, the rest from other European countries. In the same year in Libya, there were 394 films from America, 126 from Italy and 147 from Egypt.

By the 1960s, Middle Eastern film producers began to pay increasing attention to "serious" films, to the so-called New Arab Cinema and similar movements in non-Arab countries. In addition, various Arabic governments imposed limits on the number of foreign films that could be imported and screened. The same applies to television, where in many markets foreign imports are subject to government restriction.

Film in the United States . . . and Abroad

The second delegation, on January 26, had come to study the U.S. film industry, including its evolution and current trends.  The visitors were: Ilker Canikligil, lecturer in the film and TV department of Istanbul Bilgi University; Hayfa A.M. Al Mansour, filmmaker from Saudi Arabia; Marianne Hanna Elias Khoury, of Egypt, director and producer with MISR International Films, and one of the most noted women filmmakers of the Arab world; Daniel Ruiz Lucero, director, from Mexico;  Brent J. Roderique, of New Zealand, director of television commercials and short films; Abubakar Tafawa Balewa Saddik, of Nigeria, CEO of Jakadiya Picture Co.; and Yermek B. Shinarbayev, director, from Kazakhstan.

The group met with Rand Soares, Stage & Studio Manager of TFT, who gave them a tour of the school and its facilities, and with Jerry Katzman, director of industry relations at TFT. Professor Katzman, who plays a key role in developing strategic partnerships between the school and all facets of the media industry, gave the delegation an in-depth overview of the U.S. media industry, with particular attention to the responsibilities of agents, managers, studio heads, and network heads. He also discussed the six prime-time networks and their target age group, free and paid cable networks, and syndication.

The vitality of film production in the United States contrasts with the dire situation of the industry in several foreign countries. In Kazakhstan, for example, the film industry sky-rocketed in the 1940s when Stalin -- in the face of the German invasion -- decided to transfer his two main film studios from Leningrad and Moscow to Almaty, the Kazakh capital. Kazakhstan was the Soviet Union's largest republic. At the end of the 1980s,  cinema became the first cultural activity to blossom under Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of perestroika, a "restructuring" and liberalization of the Soviet economy which contributed to a political and cultural liberalization. From that time through the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991, film production flourished as more than thirty private studios sprang up. But with the end of government subsidies to film production, the situation became dire: In 1994, Kazakhstan (with a population of 16 million) produced about a dozen films. In 2002, this had fallen to just a handful. Again, audiences seemed to prefer the products of Hollywood.

But the industry is certainly not in crisis everywhere across the globe. In Nigeria, for instance, a so-called feature industry has emerged over the past decade or so. Relying on neither government funding nor television productive facilities, a video revolution has taken place, one that might well be a model for other countries. In Nigeria, a country of over 130 million people, Hollywood is nearly absent. Movie theaters just about no longer exist. If one wants a Hollywood product, one can usually get it on the street, in the form of a (usually pirated) DVD. But the big demand is for the latest Nigerian-produced releases, which are available at small booths and kiosks in all cities and towns. Almost unbelievably, around twenty new, locally made videos are released each week. And each is made at a cost of around $10,000 to $15,000. Videos sell for around $3, with $1 going to the producer, $1 to the distributor, and $1 for marketing. It is easy to see that the production cost can be covered and profits earned very quickly.

The visitors were hosted by the International Institute's International Visitors Bureau, in collaboration with the International Visitors Council of Los Angeles.

UCLA International Institute