Abdulhamid Juma was part of the initial team that founded the Dubai Intl. Film Festival (DIFF) in 2004, and has been its chairman since 2006. An influential figure in Arab cinema circles, Juma has shepherded the Dubai event to its current standing as a key driver in the Middle East largely thanks to its market component that has grown more or less steadily amid shakeups in the region’s festival landscape as it became more attuned to the local industry’s fundamental needs. The big change at the Dubai Film Market this year was the introduction of a TV strand. This prompted several announcements for local high-end shows, including an Arabic adaptation of American legal drama “Suits,” and saw Netflix execs Felipe Tewes, Director of International Originals, and Sebastian Tobelem, who handles acquisitions in the region, sit down for meetings with many local players. The 14th edition of DIFF could in fact go down in the annals as having fostered the first Netflix Middle East original. Juma sat down with Variety in Dubai to talk about how the market has evolved. Excerpts:
What would you say has characterised the 14th edition of DIFF?
This year one of the dreams was to balance the market with what happens at the festival in terms of films, red carpet, stars and all of that. When we started the market it was a baby, and then through the years I’ve always kept in mind that there are thousands of film festivals and I want people to keep coming back because there is something they are getting here in terms of business, as well as other aspects. This year I clearly see the festival and the market going hand-in-hand.
I know that in the past you have been reluctant to open the market to TV. What prompted the change?
The TV part of the business has always been on our mind from day one. But we had to delay it for two reasons: One is that the Middle East was already an established TV market, while in 2004 film revenues out of the Middle East were microscopic for the Hollywood studios. So we felt we had to build up the film side. But then we realised that in order to strengthen the market we had to go to TV because TV and film have now become a lot closer. This year we had five Ramadan TV series announced here at the Dubai Film Market.