File - Josh Welsh.
CAIRO – 30 September 2019: The leading Film Independent is a non-profit arts organization that champions creative independence in visual storytelling and supports a community of artists who embody diversity, innovation and uniqueness of vision. Egypt Today chatted with Film Independent president, Josh Welsh about his participation in El Gouna Film Festival, his vision pertaining to cinema and Film Independent’s mission.
1- Tell us more about your cooperation with El Gouna Film Festival?
This is the first year that Film Independent together with US embassy partnered with El Gouna Film Festival. I can’t say how we are excited to be here, this is an excellent festival, I know it is very new as it is the third year, but it is already established itself in Egypt and the region as a very serious festival and especially the project market, I was lucky enough to be invited to be in the jury in the CineGouna platform and the films that were being presented there whether in post-production or development were very strong.
So for Film Independent to be part of that and meet with these filmmakers, get to know them and hopefully incorporate them in some of our programing is very exciting. Additionally we performed a panel about distribution and screenwriting workshop. We are thrilled to be here and connect with filmmaking community and the cinema industry here.
2- How do you evaluate the film industry in this region?
I think the film industry all around the world is undergoing terrific change, everything is changing because of the new platforms and the new forms of distribution, I think all around the world is very disruptive and a lot of people are finding it challenging because it is becoming a different business but it is incredible opportunity for the Arab region and other parts of the world. I think that these new platforms really present exciting new opportunities, there is chance for filmmakers to reach wider global audience with their work than previously, honestly we see this in the united states where young upcoming independent filmmakers are now able to deal with Netflix and Amazon, their passionate projects on these platforms reach people from all over the world.
So the potential to reach a much larger audience. It also brings about the opportunity to collaborate and to work internationally, so I think you starting to see the reasons why Film Independent is here, it is such an exciting opportunity to partner American filmmakers with filmmakers in other parts of the world. So the movie 1982 gives you an example on the cooperation between Film Independent and Arab filmmakers. We are working with filmmakers in the Middle East from 4 years in 9 countries like Egypt, Morocco and Lebanon.
3- What are the other Egyptian festivals that Film Independent partnered with?
Last year we participated in Cairo Film Festival, and we will participate again in the upcoming edition of CIFF.
4- What is the main differences between Cairo International Film Festival and El Gouna Film Festival?
Well I am still learning, as this was my first time at El Gouna Film Festival, but in general they are both very strong festivals, the setting is very different at El Gouna Film Festival than in Cairo Film Festival, but I think both have strong project markets where they introduce new films to the industry, they have the opportunity to meet with different filmmakers, they both have strong film programs, but as I said this was my first time at El Gouna Festival.
5- Why did you choose to work in that field especially?
I have always loved movies since I was a little kid, when I was growing up my mother didn’t believe in television so we didn’t have a TV in the house, she believed in books and movies so I grow up going to the movies and I just loved movies and working at Film Independent was really a dream for me. Film Independent is not a production company nor a school, we don’t distribute films, we are non-profit company that supports filmmakers with real regional voices, our mission is to champion creative independent filmmakers and visual story telling. So really what we do is working with young emerging writers, directors and producers, helping them develop their work, I am sure you all know it is very competitive and it is hard industry to break into and people need support to work in the industry.
6- After four years of work what has changed in the cinema industry?
Since we started Global Media Makers the program has grown dramatically and it exceeded our wildest expectations I have to say , when we started the program 4 years ago we were in 5 countries in the Middle East and Turkey, I think we started in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, and now we are in 9 countries across the Middle East, and 5 countries in South Asia, so this year, we also have filmmakers from India and Pakistan.
7- In your first participation in El Gouna Film Festival, why you chose to present script writing workshop?
In Film Independent international programing we do workshops in foreign countries, foreign to the US all the time, it is a big part of what we do now. When we choose the workshop we always work with local partners to figure out what would be most interesting, a lot of countries frankly want screenwriting, even in the united states filmmakers need help with screenwriting, but other countries want to focus on production or distribution or directing or working with actors. After talking with the management of El Gouna Film Festival and its director Intishal al Timimi and the embassy we thought for the first time coming here lets do a screenwriting workshop and so far what I heard from the mentors there are a fantastic group of young writers.
8- Beside 1982 movie, what are the other movies that Film Independent supported in the Middle East?
Another notable one is Amr Salama’s film ‘’Sheikh Jackson’’, that was screened in the first edition of El Gouna Film Festival, it was a beautiful film. When Salama came into the program it was the first year of Global Media Makers, we read the script, we loved it, we saw some of his earlier work, we knew he is a strong filmmaker, now he is doing a show with Netflix, so he was a major talent that we were happy to have in the first year. We also supported Karim el Shenawy’s movie ‘’Gunshot’’, we supported a number of strong filmmakers in Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Morocco and Turkey.
9- How can filmmakers approach Film Independent?
First of all Film Independent is an open access organisation, anybody can join and become a member, we produce in show in the United States which is the big televised show for independent films, so the winners are determined by our members, we have members now all over the world, people who join receive links to watch all the nominated films and have to vote on them, we have resources and education programs for our members, many of which are free, a lot of them are based in Los Angeles but for people who don’t live there we are now expanding and offering our education program online. The second answer to your question is that Global Media Makers that’s a program by nominations, so filmmakers can apply directly to it, they have to be nominated, but if filmmakers are interested of being nominated we recommend to be nominated through a local film school, local organisation or production company, of course we take nominations from the US embassy in all the countries that we work with, but if a filmmaker comes to us without nomination and said I want you to look at my script we communicate with him/her.
10- Is Film Independent keen to support certain kinds of movies, comedy, action, social, science fiction?
That’s a great question in Film Independent we support all different genres but we really looking for things that tend to be more personal and definitely lower budget we are not supporting big budget studio films, we don’t tend to support a lot of action films, but what we really looking for are regional voices, people who have unique point of view that we call in the United States independent films, films that are a little bit outside the mainstream, they can be comedies, dramas or action but they have to have real unique point of view, we are very interested in filmmakers who want to tell stories from their own communities, if we are looking at filmmaker from Egypt we would love to see a uniquely Egyptian story, that tells things about the world we don’t know and Sheikh Jackson movie is a great example on that, it a Egyptian story that resonate internationally.
11- Some say that Independent movies lack the entertainment side commercial movies have, is this true?
I don’t think that is true, I mean some of them do ( he laughs), but I think a well made story with a good filmmaker, no matter if it is a small budget or big budget, people will be excited to see it, but in general it is harder for people to know about independent films because they don’t have massive production movies behind them. it is true that people in the United States and the world enjoy big superhero movies but there is a hunger for something more and different.
12-Do you think the Independent films can survive in front of huge commercial movies?
Yes they can, I think it is going to be a fierce fight, honestly financially it is too tough because commercial movies make too much money, but audience want more than that, I love superhero movies but I want to watch other kinds, I think audience are the same, people want to see themselves and their stories reflected on screen., so independent movies will continue to exist based on this desire. It became so much easier to make a movie if you are a young filmmaker starting out, it is easy now for American filmmaker for example to work in Egypt, this is a very exciting thing. But I have to say that it is easy to make the film but it is hard to reach the audience because of the distribution and marketing.
13- Tell us more about the awards Film Independent offered in El Gouna Film Festival this year?
So this year in our partnership with the US embassy in Cairo we are giving two prizes tied to the CineGouna platform, the first is screenwriting residency, it is a one week residency in Los Angles given for a screenwriter in the platform who will come to Los Angles for a week in February, he will get to attend the Spirit Awards which is our big awards show and will get meetings with mentors and working screenwriters and talk to them about their work. Then we will do producing residency later in April where a producer who has a project in the CineGouna platform will come to Los Angles for a week in April.
14- What are the criteria you follow to choose the winners?
We are looking at the strength of the project, do they have good script, for the screenwriters it is primarily do they respond to the script, we are searching for filmmaker with a regional voice, who is serious about perusing the craft, committed, who has a combination of talent and discipline. For the producer he should have strategy.
15- What is your next step in Egypt and the Arab world?
As I said earlier when we first came in the Arab world we were in 5 countries than we moved to 7 then to 9, in Egypt and across the Arab region we met so many talented filmmakers so to keep engaging with them, supporting their work and connecting them with American filmmakers is my dream, we are not here to teach anyone the Hollywood method, what we do is to connect young American filmmakers with young Egyptian or Arab filmmakers to learn from each other.
Part of the Global Media Makers program is that American filmmakers cooperated with their Arab counterparts in making short movies which are usually great movies. Film Independent exist to serve the filmmakers and help them to develop, but in doing the Global Media Makers program I come to realise we are serving the filmmakers but we are also serving the industry itself. In Film Independent we serve as a bridge between US and other countries.