Hollywood’s love affair with the Emirates

Sunday 07/08/2016
File photo of Tom Cruise (R) and Emirati Prime Minister and Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashed al-Maktoum at the 2011 UAE film premiere of Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

Abu Dhabi - Even the most hardened moviegoer will probably admit to getting a visceral thrill when their home city makes an appearance in a film. For UAE residents, that is becoming an increasingly regular occurrence.
From Tom Cruise trying to out­pace a sandstorm and scaling Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, to Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi being the scene of watch-through-your-fingers airborne car stunts in Furi­ous 7 and with cinematic hits such as Star Trek Beyond, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Race, Syriana and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps containing key scenes captured in the United Arab Emirates, the Gulf state is becoming a favoured desti­nation for film crews.
Michael Garin, chief executive of­ficer of Image Nation Abu Dhabi, one of the Arab world’s leading me­dia and entertainment companies, said beyond exposure and enjoy­ment the movie industry exposure brings economic benefits and cre­ates long-term aspirational oppor­tunities for the UAE.
“The effect of having these pro­ductions film in the region not only boosts the industry here, but has a knock-on effect for local creators and local talent,” he said. “A num­ber of our Emirati employees were lucky enough to work on the set of Star Wars and Brad Pitt’s upcoming movie War Machine.
“They provide fantastic training opportunities with local film-mak­ers able to intern on world-class productions, allowing them to hone their skills to then use when working on their own produc­tions.”
This, said Garin, aligns with and supports Image Nation Abu Dhabi’s goal of building “a sustainable Emi­rati film industry with longevity”.
“Investing in future generations is critical to this,” he said. “We cre­ated the Arab Film Studio (AFS) programme five years ago, which offers amateur film-makers world class training to kick-start a career in filmmaking.
“Its programmes cater to narra­tive and documentary film-mak­ers, scriptwriters, as well as spe­cially designed programmes for high school students in the region.
“We have already seen past AFS students screen their films and win awards at some of the top film fes­tivals around the world.
“This is not just great for the student but incredible for Emirati cinema to be shown on the world stage. Our Arab Film Studio pro­grammes offer some of the best training in the region and it is something we are very proud of.”
While Dubai’s world-famous skyline and landmarks partially explain the emirate’s allure for movie-makers and TV production teams, Jamal al-Sharif, chairman of the Dubai Film and TV Commis­sion (DFTC) said it is about more than face value. Dubai has, he told Emirates 24/7 in a January 2014 in­terview, made itself an attractive business proposition for the screen world and the DFTC was created to assist and facilitate production companies and film-makers inter­ested in shooting in Dubai.
“Dubai offers a deep talent pool, state-of-the-art production fa­cilities, a smooth permit process and customised soft incentives for those choosing to shoot in the Emirate,” he explained.
As a one-stop shop for produc­ers, DFTC works to streamline the film and TV production processes and helps to find the most cost-ef­fective way of producing projects.
In return, the UAE gets the sort of exposure that defies price tags. Furious 7 — the latest entry in the Fast and Furious franchise — is the fifth-highest grossing film of all time and those who watched it saw about half an hour of the action un­fold in and around Abu Dhabi.
Now Voltron Entertainment — of which one of Furious 7’s stars, Tyrese Gibson, is chairman and chief executive — is reportedly looking to build a $700 million film studio capable of filming block­busters entirely in Abu Dhabi, with studio construction company Pacifica Ventures and Legendary Pictures co-founder Scott Mednick as partners. “We’ll be able to co-fund and become co-producers of these movies and put Abu Dhabi on the map in a very different way,” Gibson told Abu Dhabi TV.
“I want to build a studio on the level of Universal Studios where there’s tourism, residential hotels and we’re shooting the biggest movies in the world in Abu Dhabi.”
Sharif said the film and TV indus­try has a “vital role in sustaining Dubai’s position as a premier global tourist destination”.
“As Dubai continues to attract more productions and projects, we expect to see an increasing number of tourists travelling to the Emirate for ‘film-induced tourism’ — when film enthusiasts travel to visit the landscapes, locations and sets that they see on screen,” he said in the Emirates 24/7 interview.