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Berlinale: Match Factory Takes Sales on Artist Shirin Neshat’s ‘Looking for Umm Kulthum’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 2/13/2017 Nick Vivarelli
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Berlin-based The Match Factory has taken world sales on New York-based Iranian artist and filmmaker Shirin Neshat’s “Looking for Umm Kulthum,” a feature film centered on Egyptian singer-actress and international icon Umm Kulthum, considered the Arab world’s greatest singer.

Neshat said that the film is based on her obsession with how Umm Kulthum, “as a Muslim woman artist, was able to transcend all sexual, religious, political, and national barriers and expectations, and became the single most significant Middle Eastern artist of the 20th century.”

“Looking for Umm Kulthum” is the “story of an Iranian woman filmmaker, living in exile, who dares to make a film about an iconic Arab singer without being Arabic herself,” Neshat said in her first interview about the long-gestating project, which is now in post. “The film therefore is not a biopic, but a very personal story, loosely based on my own experiences and challenges.”

Neshat, who won the Venice Silver Lion in 2009 for her previous film “Women Without Men,” said that a key aspect of Kulthum’s fame is the heights it reached. Her popularity is “unprecedented even in the West, where no artist, male or female, has ever reached that level,” Neshat said. Kulthum is “especially incomparable to any iconic female Western artists who have often had tragic endings.”

“Looking for Umm Kulthum” is likely to surface on the festival circuit later this year. It is produced by Berlin-based Razor Film in tandem with Austria’s Coop 99; Italy’s Vivo Films and In Between Arts; Morocco’s Agora Films; and Lebanon’s Shortcut Films, with the support of the Doha Film Institute. It was shot in Morocco and Austria.

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