Real to reel to big screen

Havana Marking talks about her documentary on the Pink Panthers, an international crime syndicate that also targeted a diamond shop in Dubai in 2007, which will soon be made into a feature film.

The Wafi Mall was robbed of Dh14 million of diamonds in 2007. Stephen Lock / The National
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Danny Boyle could soon be filming in Dubai.

The moment Havana Marking’s Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers hit the screens at festivals around the world this year, London and Hollywood came calling to buy the rights to the documentary.

“Danny Boyle and a London production house were our best shot at keeping the film as true to the documentary as possible,” says the 41-year-old Marking, who also enjoyed international success with her heartwarming documentary Afghan Star, about an Arab Idol-esque talent competition in Kabul.

“Hollywood was interested, but I decided a British director would be a better choice. I would be disappointed if it was filmed in New York, California and Miami,” she says.

And with good reason. Marking’s 89-minute crime caper took her as far as Montenegro, Switzerland and Dubai in search of fact and real-life stories about the infamous Pink Panthers – jewellery thieves, who targeted high-end diamond shops across Europe, the Middle East and Asia. According to the international police agency Interpol, which is based in France but coordinates investigations into crimes that have an international dimension. the Pink Panthers have stolen nearly a half-a-billion dollars worth of jewels in about 500 robberies.

In Dubai, it was a plucky trio who used hammers to smash through a glass display cabinet at the Graff jewellery store in Wafi mall on April 15, 2007. A woman accomplice helped them get away with more than Dh14million worth of diamonds.

“The Dubai section is so important because it’s the moment when things start to unravel,” says Marking. “Filming in Dubai is certainly something I will be encouraging. Not only because of the crucial part the city and the Dubai Police play in the reality of the plot, but also because Dubai is such a filmic city. There is something about Dubai at night. It looks stunning on camera.”

Marking says the interviews she carried out in the UAE were integral to the story being told.

“The CCTV footage of the smash- and-grab at Wafi is by far the most exciting bit of the film,” she says. “Working with the Dubai Police was fantastic. They are the heroes of my piece, in many ways. These cases are rare and they took every resource available to them and threw it at the problem.”

Although the thieves escaped, something Marking says is the part of the plan that is practised more than the robbery itself, she also says it was Dubai investigators who collected DNA and that was what eventually brought the police forces together globally.

The Pink Panthers are believed to have more than 200 members, who work all over the world. The jewellery robbery in Dubai was one of the most audacious in history.

The Pink Panthers got their name when police in London made an arrest in 2003 and found a diamond ring hidden in a jar of face cream – as shown in one of the original Pink Panther comedies starring Peter Sellers.

Smash & Grab shows how the thieving can be traced back to the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and Marking interviews five Pink Panther members, all of who are still on the loose in Europe.

Marking says one factor that has made the Pink Panthers so successful is their ability to flee a country in minutes.

“In Paris, the Pink Panthers strike almost once a month, because they don’t have the resources to deal with it,” says Marking, who claims the Panthers turned to crime after the Yugoslav Wars. “In Dubai there was just one robbery. That says a lot about the effectiveness of the force in the UAE.”

Marking will be an executive producer and consultant on the film. Work begins on the script in the New Year. “I am honest enough to admit I don’t know enough about the dramatic world. Danny is one of the greatest, so we are in good hands. I’ll be there for fact, tone and history, rather than picking Hollywood names and looking at costumes.”

It is a rare chance to have a story that is close to her heart told to an even wider audience and Marking believes the potential is huge.

“It’s so rare for a documentary to be picked up in this way,” she says. “The story has already been told. But a narrative makes way for the bits of the tale I didn’t have a chance to tell. About the families, the love stories. It’s very exciting.”

• Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers screens on Tuesday at 6.45pm and Thursday at 3.30pm at Vox Cinemas, Mall of the Emirates. For tickets, visit