Festival to offer documentary film grants

Dox Box, a four-year-old, locally-run Syrian documentary film festival, will begin giving away grants to filmmakers this year. The programme is called Tamkeen and is funded by the National Film Organisation, the Dubai International Film Festival and Sura production company. The best Syrian and best two Arab creative documentary film projects that applied to the festival’s film training programme, dubbed Campus, will win the grants.

This year’s festival will be held from March 2 to 10 at various theatres in Damascus, Homs, Tartous and Aleppo.

It will screen a series of films by Syrian filmmaker Omar Amiralay. The internationally-acclaimed filmmaker who passed away this February was active in Damascus’s dissident circles and most of his films are banned. In addition to film screenings, Dox Box is the only local festival to organise film industry events designed to improve the Arab film scene. In addition to Campus, Takween provides an introductory programme to documentary making for inexperienced youth, and Tabadol is a professional networking platform to develop links between regional and Arab professionals and the international film industry players.

“By organising industry events to develop the local film scene, Dox Box is saying that festivals are not only an occasion to screen films. This makes the festival stand out not only in Syria but in the region in general,” Syrian filmmaker Nidal al-Dibs said. “Ten years from now, there will be a generation of filmmakers who will say we started from Dox Box.”

Dibs also said he believes that Dox Box played an important role in reaching out to young Syrians and in changing people’s view of documentaries as solely news related.

“Dox Box shows documentaries as an art form and not journalism,” he said. “This is an important step to establish documentary filmmaking – which has been downplayed lately in the region – as a respectable art form.”

Still, the country’s film industry is grappling with insufficient cinema training and funding, as well as with strict censorship. The National Film Organisation (NFO) and Syrian TV were the sole producers of documentaries in the country through the end of the 1980s. They mostly produced “documentation films” that are closer in form to journalism than to creative documentaries. Although the NFO did fund a few critically-acclaimed Syrian documentaries, these films were censored and never allowed to be screened locally.

Today, eight to 12 documentaries in total are produced in Syria annually. Most are privately granted or commissioned by Arabic or, in some cases, international television stations. Some filmmakers turn to international grants, NGOs and subject-matter relevant grants. However, due to the world financial crisis, arts funding worldwide and in Syria particularly are facing cuts.

For more information about DOX BOX log on to www.dox-box.org

This was published in Syria Today magazine.

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