As the first IFP representative partner project to the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), SCARLET POPPY – a cross cultural love story set in Afghanistan between an American and a conservative Pashtun woman who is also being pursued by a local Talib – was in the company of other partner projects from the region as well as from Europe (and now the US) that were all part of their Partnership Program. Dubai is a very vibrant and ambitious city on the Persian Gulf that has transformed itself in the last ten years into one of the most important commercial and cultural centers in the Middle East – if not the world. It is an enclave of stability in a region that has been through – and continues to go through – massive war and political and social change. Like New York, its ambition can be seen by looking up at all of the magnificent skyscrapers, including the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, which I find to be one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen.
Some of the meetings for SCARLET POPPY were with the same individuals and companies I had met in previous co-production markets – Asian Project Market (Busan, Korea), Film Bazaar (Goa, India) and IFP “No Borders”. I have noticed that relationships are developing over time and people wanted to see what progress has been made since the last encounter. But there were also many meetings with new producers, sales agents, and film financing companies that were interested in the project. I learned a lot by talking to all of these people, who were very generous with their time, about where to direct our efforts in terms of attachments and where the market is for this film. Since this is my first feature as Writer/Director/Producer and none of the other members of our producing team (Executive Producer Siddiq Barmak, Producer Thomas D. Adelman) were able to join, I was on my own.
The best thing about the Partnership section of the Market as well as DIFF in general, were the compelling filmmakers and stories that are coming out of this tumultuous region at the moment – all with with strong Middle Eastern or South Asian elements. Ironically, DIFF, with many stories of war and political and social upheaval, took place in one of Dubai’s glitziest hotels (and there is no glitz like Dubai glitz) – the Mina-A -Salam Hotel. The realness of the stories could not have been in stronger contrast to the fantasyland setting. The best meetings I had were not on the schedule at all and happened by chance. Where else can you be wandering in the hotel garden, lost and looking for a restaurant and make a random acquaintance with a billionaire Emirati media mogul who is building an entire media city in Kurdistan and invites you to have a meeting about your project?
Evenings were spent having drinks and talking films at the Koubba bar in the Al Qasr hotel – the best networking place at DIFF. When I finally did meet my Emirati media mogul on the veranda of the Al Qasr, he showed up with his Iraqi Airlines pilot friend – a man in his sixties and for some reason dressed entirely in leather, including the pants – I should have gotten a picture but I was too busy telling him about my project.
Another random encounter at the Koubba bar led to my instant friendship with an Iranian filmmaker from Australia who runs a festival there and must be one of the few people to have seen Opium War, an Afghan movie I acted in a few years ago. He was quoting me lines from the movie all night – lines I didn’t necessarily want to remember.
As usual, I did not have time to go see most of the great movies at DIFF but hopefully I will see many of them soon. The ones I did see were largely in the screening room when I had a spare couple of hours.
I am now in Mumbai where I have come for some meetings. Reflecting on DIFF, this is the fourth co-production market I have participated in for SCARLET POPPY and I feel people had more substantive interest in my project there – and this probably comes down to the organic connection the project has to the region. In some of the other markets, people said they were interested in the project – and I am sure they were, but it was a bit off their radar screen. I had to do a lot of talking to explain the context of the film. Not so here. Some People were looking for exactly this type of film. Some projects fit more naturally in certain festivals and mine fit here. What this results in – who knows? But it was certainly a worthwhile experience and a place not to be missed for stories such as mine with Middle Eastern and to a lesser extent South Asian stories – whether from the region or involving the diaspora around the world.
I am very grateful to IFP NY for selecting our project to go to DIFF as well as to Jane Williams and her team at DIFF, who did such a great job in making the experience a rewarding one.