Marco Orsini, president of the non-profit International Emerging Film Talent Association (IEFTA), strongly supports a back-to-basics distribution approach for independent films in the Middle East and North Africa region ( MENA), the Horn of Africa and parts of South Asia.
Orsini says quality independent films would most likely be selected at some high-end film festivals and attract sales agents, but COVID-19 has closed many potential markets for these films. Many have gone straight to VOD platforms instead.
“I think a lot of VOD platforms have started attacking how sales agents work, they are diminished,” Orsini said. Variety in an interview during the recent El Gouna Film Festival in Egypt. “But at the same time, I think the filmmakers have been brainwashed into believing the golden carrot is Netflix.”
“I think that would be a good endgame… but people forget the old fashioned way of going to film festivals, talking to distributors and sales agents, getting your movie reviewed, talking with critics, talk to theaters, do a good strategy for film festivals or a market-based release, and do it the old-fashioned way of going from market to market and working it, ”Orsini said.
Orsini cites the example of Moges Tafesse’s 2019 Ethiopian film “Enchained”, which after a local success was picked up by British company Habeshaview. The film was released in an area of London with a high concentration of Ethiopians and was sold out for a week. The experiment was successfully repeated in Washington DC, and the film was heading to New York City when COVID hit.
The IEFTA intervenes very early in the film’s life cycle, right from the script stage. The projects are identified by the local curators and the IEFTA. With the help of in-house writers, he helps polish the project in terms of language and presentation to a luster acceptable to global development labs. Many filmmakers do not have English, the internationally accepted lingua franca, as their first language.
The IEFTA is there as advice, including help with contracts, as the project goes through financing and production. It again actively intervenes in its subsequent trajectory, opening the doors to sales, press and distribution. Films that have benefited from the IEFTA touch include Ali El Arabi’s documentary on sport and refugees “Captains of Za’atari” (Egypt) which he identified as a potential project during the 2019 edition of El Gouna, and went on to a stellar festival. in 2021 starting with Sundance; “Chained”; “Salt in our waters” by Rezwan Shahriar Sumit (Bangladesh); and the “200 meters” of May Odeh (Palestine).
“Beyond the Raging Sea,” directed by Orsini, also found a distribution using this approach.
“Of course everyone wants to watch blockbuster movies, and there’s that audience, but it’s not one size fits all,” Orsini said. “There is this other audience that is looking for foreign films, subtitled films, animated narratives, documentaries, hybrid feature films – films independent by nature about how they’re made, but commercial enough to go. perform in a theater and potentially generate income for both parties.
IEFTA also manages the annual Refugee Voices in Film initiative, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The initiative commissions and presents several short films dealing with aspects of the global refugee crisis. The first four editions took place at the Cannes Market and this year at El Gouna.
Meanwhile, the IEFTA’s quest to bring independent films to theaters before their broadcast on VOD continues. “We will fight tooth and nail for the filmmakers we work with,” Orsini said. “We act like a for-profit entity, like an agent, like a manager, like a publicist, like a lawyer, like a commercial agent. We are all of this as if we are for profit, as if we are making a dime out of it. And in fact, we are spending money to do it.