EXCLUSIVE: Doha Tribeca Film Festival and Doha Film Institute executive director Amanda Palmer is setting out on her own to represent and promote Arab talent in front of and behind the camera. The Qatar-based executive has yet to reveal the name of the new agency but tells me she and her Qatari and Dubai partners are self-financing the venture which is expected to be fully operational in November. Palmer launched the first Doha Tribeca film fest in 2009 and took over as director of the DFI in 2010. During her tenure, she’s been involved in packaging myriad projects including Ziad Doueiri’s festival-circuit title The Attack; Salma Hayek and Participant Media’s feature adaptation of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet; Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist; and Cruel Summer, a 30-minute film installation directed by Kanye West which the rapper unveiled in Cannes this past May and which Palmer exec produced. Building on that experience, Palmer intends to “create a one-stop-shop for U.S. agencies looking to connect with Middle East filmmakers, actors and other relevant talent”. The production outfit will act as a consultant and liaison for producers and studios looking to film in the region.
With the region still building its cinema culture, Palmer says nurturing talent doesn’t exist at all. “If we truly want to start a film industry in this part of the world, this type of business is absolutely essential”. She talks up local talent like Mohammad Saeed Harib, creator of popular animated TV series Freej who’s now working on The Prophet; Emirati producer and director Nyla Al Khaja, who’s prepping her first feature; and actor Ali Suliman, who’s had roles in Showtime’s Homeland and Ridley Scott’s Body Of Lies. She contends: “Demand is going to increase. There are 360 million Arabs and a lot of underexploited talent doesn’t know how to connect yet and find projects.” Raising the profile of local talent will help diversify what gets seen on international screens, Palmer believes. “If a U.S. production comes to shoot here, they need to work with companies that know how to navigate the country. Otherwise, it’s always the same actors and the same models.”