Film production in the UAE could be about to step up a level thanks to a ground-breaking new partnership which brings together producers, distributors and broadcasters, unifying every stage of a film’s life from conception to exhibition.
The partnership brings production house Image Nation Abu Dhabi, distributor and theatrical exhibitor Majid Al Futtaim, owner of Vox Cinemas and its distribution operation, and the Middle East’s leading broadcaster MBC Studios in what MBC managing director Peter Smith calls a “360-degree Arab film entity”.
In layman’s terms, that means the new partnership will develop and produce movies, screen them in cinemas, and ultimately broadcast them on TV throughout the Middle East with an unprecedented degree of integration.
Smith says: “This is a strategic move by MBC Studios complemented by our partners in Majid Al Futtaim and Image Nation Abu Dhabi. We're bringing together, for the very first time…all aspects of content creation, including development, production, theatrical exhibition, televising on the Middle East's leading broadcaster and SVOD platforms, as well as international sales.”
He adds: “We want to create premium Arabic language feature film content from across the Middle East to connect with audiences in the region and internationally. This partnership, in essence, creates a fully integrated studio.”
The partnership is open to projects from across the Middle East, with a particular focus on the GCC and Egypt, and has already begun producing projects. It will run for an initial five years, and two films are already in the early stages of production under the arrangement.
Three for Eternity is a "family vampire drama" produced by Mohamed Hefzy (Clash, Sheikh Jackson), which will be the directorial debut for the film's writer, Rami Yasin, who has previously produced films including The Worthy and Zinzana.
HWJN is a feature film adaptation of the bestselling Saudi novel of the same name by Ibrahim Abbas. The movie tells the story of a Djinn who has to learn to live with the human family that moves into "his" house in what Image Nation chief Michael Garin describes as a kind of "Arabic Beetlejuice."
Ben Ross, Image Nation’s chief content officer says the new deal will assist film makers and audiences alike: “This region has infinitely talented writers and filmmakers wanting to tell their stories, as well as a sophisticated consumer audience that craves locally made content that resonates with them,” he says. “The trio of companies will facilitate the creative process at every step of a project’s development, and this is a major step towards our vision of creating dynamic content for the Middle East that will not only engage locally, but also play to the rest of the world.”
Vox Cinemas will be key to the theatrical exhibition of the forthcoming films. The cinema chain currently operates over 400 screens in eight countries regionally, and recently entered the nascent Saudi market when it opened the kingdom’s first multiplex in April 2018. In the subsequent year, Vox Cinemas has opened a further four multiplexes in Riyadh and Jeddah with a total of 47 screens, and plans to open 110 by the end of 2019.
Khaled El Chidiac, CEO, Majid Al Futtaim Ventures commented: “Entertainment and creative industries are vital to a thriving and diversified economy, and there has never been a more exciting time to be part of this field in Saudi Arabia. With the Kingdom being home to some of the most talented minds in the industry we look forward to working with them closely as they bring their work to life and receive well-deserved exposure across the region.”
The huge new Saudi market looks set to play an increasingly vital role in the region’s film industry, with over 30 million new potential audience members and film makers brought into the market following the removal of the kingdom’s long-standing cinema ban.
In a separate deal, Image Nation and MBC Studios announced earlier this year a slate of Saudi films for local, regional and international audiences, which aim to film in Saudi and utilize Saudi talent in front of and behind the camera.