Abu Dhabi Film Festival proves a capital promotion

Abu Dhabi takes centre stage at a panel discussion about opportunities in the capital to shoot movies.

Film industry insiders at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr discuss Abu Dhabi as a location for making movies.
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The first panel discussion of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival was, quite suitably, regarding the city itself, as players on the growing film landscape discussed the increasing number of opportunities available for international filmmakers in the capital.

The Making Movies in Abu Dhabi talk, held in the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, began with the big question: why should people want to shoot films here?

"You're seeing Abu Dhabi emerge as a production centre," said Wayne Borg, the deputy chief executive of twofour54, the government-backed media zone. "Two or three years ago there wasn't much happening in the way of production and there have been concerted efforts happening right across the spectrum. There's a real emphasis here on the creative industries."

Borg pointed to new infrastructure such as studios, post-production facilities and digital facilities that have helped foster development.

"We've even introduced a visa scheme for freelancers here. It's all about improving the ability of filmmakers and producers to work here efficiently and effectively."

David Shepheard is the director of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, which actively aims to promote the capital as a destination for shooting films. He suggested that because the city had yet to be featured in many films it was a perfect unexplored and alternative backdrop.

"It's not been profiled that much. It's still quite new and fresh, and there are lots of new locations that haven't been seen in feature films before. It's still a city in motion, it's still being built and every day there seems to be a new piece of iconic architecture."

Shepheard said that the commission tries to match locations around Abu Dhabi to new scripts that they read. But not all films are suitable for Abu Dhabi. Anyone who bothered to see the largely abysmal Sex and the City 2 might have noticed that the "Abu Dhabi" Carrie and the girls paraded their Jimmy Choos through didn't look much like the real thing. It was actually shot in Morocco.

"We read scripts all the time, and not all storylines are appropriate to be filmed in the Arab world and certainly not the UAE," said Shepheard.

Abu Dhabi's progress on the film front was news to an audience composed largely of film directors and producers.

"The one thing that I have just heard that I had no idea about, was that you had studio space here," said one audience member, a producer working in Europe. "I'm sure I speak for many people here that nobody understood this before."

Borg said that to attract people to use this studio space, the organisation was working with the Abu Dhabi Film Commission to offer an incentives package.

"It'll be to attract one-off projects to bring their productions here. It's something we're working on right now and we hope to come to the market with the incentives package early next year."

Although attracting films to the UAE was one side of the discussion's focus, another major element of the talk was regarding building up the skill base within the country.

Mohammed Al Otaiba, the recently appointed head of Image Nation Abu Dhabi, the newly formed division of the film production house which aims to focus on supporting local filmmakers, and is also owned by The National's parent company Abu Dhabi Media, outlined his plan.

"Our core business is to make films that sell and are entertaining, but also over the next five years the idea is to invest in the talent here and give them that opportunity to be part of the industry and find jobs."

Providing some proof of the growth for filmmakers in the country, Sea Shadow, Image Nation's first Emirati film and shot in the UAE by the local director Nawaf Al-Janahi, will receive its world premiere at the Abu Dhabi Theatre on Wednesday.

"A lot of the people in front of and behind the camera come from here," said Al Otaiba. "We offered that opportunity for young talent aspiring to be part of the industry to join the film and gain the experience, and then take that experience perhaps to another project."

Al Otaiba said that Image Nation's forthcoming UAE-based film, a horror called Djinn, was filmed in Ras Al Khaimah.

Although this film had the renowned US horror director Tobe Hooper behind the camera, Al Otaiba said efforts had been made to provide a chance for more local people to get involved. "Again, we were offering opportunities to UAE talent to join the film set and gain from the expertise brought to the UAE."