Aflamnah: Crowd-funding creativity
BY MAHA ELNABAWI
Cairo: This time last year, the global media was in a frenzy with sensationalized catch phrases labeling the Arab revolutions as the “internet uprisings” and “Facebook revolutions.” While technology certainly contributed to their success, the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya were not technological revolutions. Social media did not create these revolts, but it did keep the movements alive and connected.
Technology allowed the world to watch and spread the onset of protest — it helped link activists, build political networks and galvanize a movement that led to the toppling of autocrats. In a nutshell, technology opened our eyes and enabled the communication needed in the long fight for change, in a region plagued with despotism.
Although little has changed in the day-to-day lives of many Arab citizens, innumerable lessons have been learned since the uprisings. Most notably, a do-it-yourself attitude was born in the region, mobilizing a technological evolution in the form of citizen journalism collectives, alternative media and now, crowd-funded cultural initiatives.
Aflamnah (Our Films) — the first digital platform dedicated to crowd-funding for creative ideas in the Arab world — is the most recent addition to the digital brigade of collectives and communities in the region.
The brainchild of husband and wife co-founders, Lotfi Bencheikh and Vida Rizq, the website aims to help independent filmmakers, artists, musicians and innovators raise funds for their ideas by exciting people enough to financially support these project, aiming to bring them into fruition.
With a history in digital media, filmmaking and production, both Bencheikh and Rizq have deep Arab roots. Reared in Morocco and Palestine respectively, and now living in Dubai, the duo are something of regional, cultural activists working to identify, develop and expose Arab talent.
“Aflamnah was set up to encourage talented and creative people from anywhere [in the world], with a project or idea related to the Arab world to realize them with the assistance of crowd-funding.”
According to Rizq, the “concept is simple: pitch the idea — be it [in] film, fashion, art, literature, music, video gaming, mobile applications or technology — explain how much money you need, what you will do with the money, and then tap into a ‘crowd’ of like-minded trendsetters who are willing to pledge money in exchange for a reward and for being a part of something unique.”
The website, which launched earlier this month, received instant fame within the regional film industry — in just one week after going viral, Aflamnah won the official support of the Gulf and Dubai international film festivals. Aflamnah has also secured partnerships with Cinemoz, the first premium Video on Demand platform in the Arab world.
“We were delighted to announce the support of Dubai Film Festival and Gulf Film Festival only a week after launching,” says Rizq. “In the long term we hope to have them curate certain pages on the website. Aflamnah will also be present at both festivals which will expand our network amongst Arab filmmakers and the industry.”
Aflamnah currently boasts an impressive list of industry leaders on its’ Advisory Committee, including but not limited to Dubai International Film Festival’s Artistic Director Masoud Amralla Al-Ali, Chief Legal Officer at twofour54 Greg Sweeting and Chairman of Virtuzone Neil Petch.
According to Rizq, the Advisory Committee will help move the business forward on all fronts. “The committee members are highly innovative. We hope to utilize them for their industry expertise whether it be on the business or creative side,” says Rizq. “It’s a great backbone to have because the committee is made up of people who have plenty of experience and lend great credibility to the process.”
There are currently six projects listed on Aflamnah’s website. Typically, projects will only be hosted on the site for a period of 30, 60 or 90 days, but since Aflamnah is only in the soft launch phase, these six projects will have the opportunity to renew their period of crowd-funding.
Within the film section, supporters can select projects including award-winning director Annemarie Jacir’s sophomore feature, “When I Saw You,” first-time director Dima Hamdan’s crime thriller “The Kidnap,” Vancouver-based director Amar Chebib “WAJD: Music, Politics and Ecstasy” produced by Salam Films, Hind Shoufani’s art-house documentary “Journey in Migration,” award winning director Nicolas Ybarra’s “Adeela,” and Lebanese director Sabah Haider’s “Abu Rami.”
Egyptian filmmaker Nagham Osman spoke to The Egypt Monocle about her experience with Aflamnah. “I am currently working on my trailer and pitch for my first feature documentary, ‘Little’ to upload onto the site. The process thus far has been great,” she said.
“Aflamnah is very hands on — they have been working with me to prepare a marketable pitch and I am confident the site will help me gain some funding.”
Osman goes on to mention that the traditional funding process for films is often tedious.
While there is a surplus of available grants in light of the Arab uprisings, the process is often lengthy and not always reliable.
“When seeking grants and funds from institutions, you often have to wait several months before knowing if your project or proposal will be accepted,” Osman said. “You can spend an entire year waiting to hear back. What’s great about Aflamnah and crowd-funding in general is that you have an alternative or a supplement to gaining additional funding. The site uses networking, social media and connections to give you a better chance of presenting your project and bringing it to life.”
According to Rizq, crow-funding has already been a massive success in Europe and the United States with an estimated $2.8 billion expected to be raised in 2012 globally across 450+ crowd funding sites — most notably, Kickstarter.com.
She stresses that the fundamental key for uploading any project, be a music album, a film or an exhibition, is to make your pitch compelling, interesting and emotional in order to connect with the audience visiting the site. With Aflamnah’s industry expertise, dedication, and network of partners, artists in the Arab world are now one step closer to making their dreams a reality.
“I think crowd-funding will take off in Egypt because I think during the revolution, so much of the success was from community work,” Osman said.
“It was very easy to send out a tweet and blog and have everyone read it. Crowd-funding is part of the impact of social media. It’s the idea that one individual can make a huge difference — that’s something we definitely learned throughout those 18 days and after.” –The Egypt Monocle.