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Naas, a network to promote independent cinema in the Middle East

Pour parler des “gens” en arabe, on dit Nas. Ce n’est donc pas totalement un hasard s’il s’agit également de l’acronyme du tout premier réseau de cinéma indépendant dans les pays arabes. Un moyen de soutenir une culture du cinéma alternatif à travers la région et de connecter les passionnés.

Closely linked to its cultural and political context, the Arab network for alternative screens also results from an emergency to develop alternative narratives in the Middle East and North Africa. By creating a collective film culture, it hopes to foster a dialogue among the audience.

First pan-Arab alternative cinema network: 9 countries, 34 screens

Born in 2009, the Network for Arab Alternative Screens (NAAS) is the result of a series of meetings between different programmers and directors of independent cinemas in the region. The project aims to overcome the isolation of Arab cinemas, by creating a structure for sharing knowledge and expertise, but also to raise funds and support initiatives within the network. “We want to work as a cooperative by sharing grants among our members according to their needs and projects,” says Noémi Kahn, assistant director of the network.

Initially, the network consisted of Beirut Metropolis Cinema, Al Balad Theater in Jordan, Tangier Film Library, Yabous Cultural Center in Palestine and Dox Box in Syria. Since then, he has been joined by CineMadart (Tunisia), Sudan Film Factory (Sudan), Cinematheque and Zawya (Cairo, Egypt), Wekalet Behna (Alexandria, Egypt), FilmLab Palestine (Ramallah, Palestine) and Samawa cine club in Iraq. It has also spread to the Gulf countries with the Akil cinema created by Butheina Kazim in Dubai.

Since its creation, the NAAS network has participated in numerous regional and international events related to cinema in order to give visibility to its members and to extend its collaborations. Thus, it gets involved in various events like the Palestinian cinema days in the West Bank, or the Fameck Arab Film Festival in France. It also participates actively in fostering discussions about independent Arab cinema. In 2018, he moderated a discussion with FilmLab Palestine’s artistic director, Hanna Atallah, about the Palestinian film industry, as part of the first Cine-Palestine festival in Paris.

Sharing knowledge and creating synergies

Since 2016, the organization officially registered in Beirut and elected its first administrative committee, 7 years after its creation. “It took us some time to find the right administrative form for us, but in the end, we needed an administrative structure in order to mobilize more funds and give a real boost to the projects we care about. “

He also developpes publications and studies to help people better understand the industry of alternative cinema in the region. During its last general meeting, he released Audiences Cinema Mapping, a two-year study led by Safoury el Noury which, through a series of interviews, draws attention to the relationship between film organizations with their audiences and contemporary cinema in Egypt. Although focused on the egyptian market, this tool could also be applied to understand cinema audiences from different countries.  

Strengthen the cinema-club culture

The network is also working to strengthen the film club culture in the Middle East through various initiatives. For two years, he has launched Cinapses, a program which has the goal of supporting the cinematic landscape in the Arab world. It also provides the allocation of grants to network members for projects that attempt to develop and expand audiences. As Naomi Kahn explains, “Our goal is really to create synergies between members. The projects are submitted to a jury composed of members of the network, who then choose which one they want to support. “Among the projects we can find: Ciné Fabrika, a professional training course designed to strengthen the skills of Tunisian and Algerian film clubs, #Next_Generation, scriptwriting training workshops for young people in the West Bank and Gaza, and Nowplaying, a summer festival of independent cinema every night for six weeks at Warehouse 68 at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai. The overall aim of the program was  to increase Cinema Akil’s exposure to a larger audience and to test the beta version of what would be their permanent home as the first independent cinema in the Gulf.”

The network also rewards young and promising filmmakers in the region through the creation of the NAAS film circulation award. In 2018, it was given to the young Egyptian writer Aida El Kashef for The Day I Ate The Fish, a film about women imprisoned for the murder of their husbands.