Since 2016, Film Independent and The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs have partnered on Global Media Makers (GMM), an innovative mentoring initiative connecting visual storytellers from South Asia, the Arab world and Turkey with leading U.S. filmmakers and entertainment professionals in order to increase mutual understanding and promote people-to-people engagement. Film Independent’s Louay Khraish checks in to tell us about the recent GMM Summit in Cairo.
After three years of bringing 46 filmmakers from the Arab world and Turkey to Los Angeles and organizing several follow-up workshops and masterclasses that have impacted more than 1000 participants in the region, it was time to cement the relationship that we’ve built and further our cross-cultural collaborations with… a GMM Summit! And Cairo, home to the largest film industry in the region, was the perfect choice for our first ever Global Media Makers Summit.
The Global Media Makers Summit was a partnership with the US Embassy in Cairo and Film Independent, organized under the umbrella of the Cairo Industry Days, a platform that was newly launched to support Arab cinema. The two-day summit, which took place November 28-29 last year, brought together 22 GMM Fellows from eight of the nine GMM countries.
In addition to marking and celebrating the third year of the successful GMM program, it was the first time that we brought Fellows from all three years of the program together, some of whom were meeting in person for the very first time. GMM Fellow from Egypt, Amr Salama said, “It was like a high school reunion, except more fun, a lot to learn and amazing talents and minds to meet. Film Independent never ceases to amaze us.”
In addition to the Fellows, we invited six Mentors from the United States to join us. The Mentors, who have collaborated with us in the past, were Len Amato (President, HBO Films), Effie T. Brown (Producer, Dear White People), Elissa Federoff (EVP of Distribution, Neon), Gregory Nava (Writer Director, El Norte and My Family), Laura Kim (SVP, Marketing, Participant Media) and Alix Madigan (Producer, Winter’s Bone.) Alix Madigan, who had been to Egypt before, did not hide how thrilled she was to be back, saying: “Cairo [was] an endlessly fascinating, beautiful city, and it was such a pleasure to reconnect with the other GMM filmmakers in that incredible place.”
As one of GMM’s goals is cross-cultural collaboration, it was very important for us to invite regional industry stakeholders to discuss how their organizations provided support, community and opportunities to filmmakers in the region. On the first day of the summit, representatives from organizations such as ART, Beirut Cinema Platform, Film Clinic, MC Distribution, Mad Solutions, MIF Egypt and the Talkies discussed how they could continue to collaborate in the region and with the United States, specifically with the Global Media Makers program to further the careers of filmmakers and build a sustainable ecosystem for both established and emerging new talents in the region.
To launch the summit, the US Embassy in Cairo hosted a special reception on November 27, where Arab filmmakers and movie stars, such as Yousra and Laila Elwi mingled with the GMM Fellows, mentors and staff. The reception was exhilarating and, coincidently, was also Effie Brown’s birthday. It was a memorable moment when GMM Fellow from Lebanon, Jana Wehbé, who has a beautiful voice, sang “Happy Birthday” in Arabic to Effie with all the Fellows joining in.
The exuberance felt at the reception was not an exception. As Amin Dora, GMM Fellow from Lebanon, said: “There was a vibrant energy all around the summit.” Our mentors also sensed that energy. Len Amato felt that “It was truly a great thing for filmmakers from different Arab countries [and Turkey] to get together and discuss issues common to all despite their cultural differences and various political circumstances.”
The outcome of the energetic and robust dialogue we had over the two days summit was a summation of discussions held two years in a row at Sunnylands, the Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage, California where Fellows identified challenges and opportunities they faced in the region. “By connecting with other fellows from the region,” Mina Nabil, GMM Fellow from Egypt expressed, “a wonderful goal was set to continue to focus on and create an effective network that could help other filmmakers now and in the future.”
There was definitely a consensus at the summit that there was dire need for a network of regional filmmakers to organize and tackle the different challenges they faced in the region and find possible filmmaker-led solutions to these challenges. The Fellows were especially inspired by Greg Nava, one of the founders of Film Independent. He was a living example that a network of independent filmmakers, no matter how small in the beginning, could make a difference.
Rami Yassin, GMM Fellow from Jordan summed the two days by saying, “The Global Media Makers summit was a fantastic one-of-a-kind opportunity to meet the emerging generation of filmmakers from the region. It [was] the perfect extension of the program since it brought fellows from the past three years together in an informal setting to share experiences and exchange ideas and discuss ways to further the region’s burgeoning independent film and TV industry at a very crucial period in its nascent life.”
In addition to the Summit, Global Media Makers organized three industry panels during the Cairo Industry Days, which opened with “Finding The Essential Truth in Film,” a conversation with Len Amato and moderated by Josh Welsh, Film Independent President.
The second organized panel was “Global Media Makers: Building a Bridge of Collaboration & Mentorship,” a roundtable discussion moderated by Global Media Makers Director María Raquel Bozzi with American producers Alix Madigan and Effie T. Brown, Jennifer Kushner, Director of Artist Development and GMM Fellows: Lara Saba from Lebanon, Rami Yasin and Ayten Amin from Egypt.
For Alix Madigan, “Being a part of Cairo Industry Days was exciting as we were able to meet so many of the exciting talent from that region.” Rami Yassin said: “Taking part in the panel along with such well-established and respected filmmakers from the US was certainly a career highlight,” adding that it reinforced the program’s central theme of opening the door for collaboration between Arab and American film professionals.
Our third panel was “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About U.S. Festivals & Distribution but Where Afraid to Ask,” moderated by GMM Fellow Amr Salama, with leading marketing strategist Laura Kim and distribution expert Elissa Federoff. It was the first GMM trip for Elissa Federoff, who said that she had the best time meeting such a talented and exciting group of filmmakers from a place and culture that she had never known intimately. She added, “It opened my eyes and gave me a wonderful new perspective on international cinema.”
Whether at the two-day summit or the panels during the Cairo Industry Days, the Fellows and mentors felt that it was a very special time. It was as Len Amato said, “a deep, provocative and moving experience, not just because Egypt is amazing, but because Film Independent was able to provide a forum to bring Arab world filmmakers together to brainstorm and celebrate four years of such a vital and inclusive program.”
For María Bozzi, “it was a very emotional experience to mark the culmination of the third year of the program with everyone gathered like a family by the Nile (literally)— to realize that we’re forming an international tribe of kindred spirits, who are crazy and resilient enough to continue telling beautiful and compelling stories that can have great positive impact in the challenging world we’re living today. This was very exciting to see, because we’re striving to build a program that can serve as a vehicle for cross cultural collaboration, regional peer support, and positive impact through the arts.”
Laura Kim, who has been a steadfast supporter of GMM, expressed how groundbreaking we all felt the Summit was when she said, “To see all of these filmmakers come together from different countries and discuss the challenges they face, realize they share many of them and to see them come up with tangible solutions, promising to meet and continue this work well after the Summit, was incredibly inspiring. To feel this sense of community and comradery amongst artists from the region – it not only felt urgent, it felt historic.”
For some Fellows like Yanis Koussim, GMM Fellow from Algeria, it was more personal. The summit made him feel hopeful, that his voice mattered, and that with the voices of the other participants a change could be made. For other Fellows like Zeina Badran, GMM Fellow from Lebanon, the Summit felt like a family reunion. She said that Cairo made her realize that Global Media Makers was not only the family she spent six weeks with in Los Angeles, but rather a huge family of amazing filmmakers from the Arab World and Turkey.
“The Summit in Cairo was truly inspiring,” said Film Independent President Josh Welsh, “and created a new program element that we definitely plan on keeping as part of GMM moving forward. Bringing together filmmakers from different parts of the world to talk about their work, the challenges they face and the ways that they, as filmmakers, can address them, was just extraordinary. It was especially gratifying to have Greg Nava talk about how 35 years ago independent filmmakers came together in LA to help each other, founding Film Independent in the process.”
Overall, it was an inspiring experience for everyone, and like Len Amato said, “The pyramids weren’t bad either!”