Guy Daleiden on the leaps in Luxembourg film industry and what the UAE could learn

For an idea of what a future home-grown UAE film industry could look like, consider Luxembourg.

The small European country has a population of only 550,000, of which the majority are expats — just like the UAE.

But Luxembourg has been packing some punches in the international moviemaking arena. At last year’s Oscars, the country scooped its first Academy Award (for Best Animated Short Film) for Mr Hublot, which screened over the weekend in the UAE as part of the European Film Screenings.

Additionally, last year also saw the Luxembourg-based Mélusine Productions’ animated film Ernest & Celestine, about a friendship between a mouse and a bear, become the first locally produced feature film to be nominated for an Oscar (for Best Animated Feature Film).

This year has brought the industry more international acclaim, as Mélusine Productions secured another Oscar nomination for the animated feature Song of the Sea, which was the opening film of the European Film Screenings last Wednesday.

So how did this little-known country, which 25 years ago had no film industry to speak of, become such a big player in the field?

“The government at the time decided to invest into production infrastructure and production of films in Luxembourg”, says Guy Daleiden, vice president of European Film Agency Directors Association.

“The media industry was always very important in Luxembourg — the biggest European TV broadcaster, RTL group, is based in Luxembourg, as well as the biggest satellite operator in the world, SES Astra. So we have a history of distributing movies, but not producing them. Twenty five years ago, the film industry was non-existent and the only producers we had worked on an amateur basis. There were no infrastructures in place or public support; no money available. That’s why the government decided to develop a fund to support film production.”

Since then, Film Fund Luxembourg — of which Daleiden is also managing director — has supported more than 600 productions, from feature films to animations.

Although the Oscars are “a highlight of any film career”, the 52-year-old Daleiden says those golden gongs are not end goals for the fund.

“While we support the industry, we are not aiming at prizes,” he states.

“We are aiming at developing our local industry, that’s the name of the game. Now, 25 years later, we can look at the industry and say that it’s thriving — and everyone in it works on a professional, internationally recognised level. That is what is important for us.”

One of the features that Film Fund Luxembourg is supporting is Sawah, which will be directed by Adolf El Assal, an Egyptian who formerly lived in Dubai and now operates out of Luxembourg.

El Assal has only just finished writing the screenplay, but it has already been picked up by the Abu Dhabi distribution company MAD solutions, which will be distributing the completed feature in the Arab world. The film is a co-production as well between Wadi, The Producers, and MAD.

Sawah, which is being produced by Luxembourg’s Wady Films, is about an Egyptian DJ and pacifist named Samir, who leaves Cairo as the revolution begins, to play the gig of a lifetime in Berlin.

When the loss of his fake passport leaves him stranded in Luxembourg, Samir is taken off track by the crazy lives of a small-time hustler, a pregnant social worker, a jealous policeman and a band of enraged French Romas.

Film Fund Luxembourg is also one of the sponsors of the European Film Screenings.

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