Scripting the UAE's film industry

The executives behind Abu Dhabi's branch of the NY Film Academy say the campus is responding to the entertainment ambitions of the region.

Abu Dhabi - July 31, 2008: John Nodilo, Director of the Abu Dhabi Campus of the New York Film Academy and Michael J. Young, Provost of the The New York Fim Academy, photographed in a student constructed set at the Abu Dhabi Campus. Lauren Lancaster / The National.  *** Local Caption ***  31.07.08 - film academy jpg000.jpg
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The provost of New York Film Academy says the Abu Dhabi branch aims to be one of the main film schools in the Middle East and a support to the burgeoning cinema industry in the UAE and the region. Michael Young described the country's movie industry as "on the cusp" of major expansion, following growth already seen in television production. His upbeat assessment comes after the recent news that the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage plans a national film commission to encourage overseas filmmakers to shoot in the UAE.

"I think we're seeing it already - there is a great deal of [television] production," said Mr Young, a Harvard graduate who helped to found the academy in 1992. "We're seeing films produced or co-produced here and films that come here as a location, but there's a real desire to organically build arts and entertainment films. "There is a feeling this is the moment to really launch this industry in a big way. We hope this campus will be a regional centre, an international film school in the Middle East."

NYFA Abu Dhabi opened in February and had a modest start in its first term with 12 full-time and 15 part-time students. The branch hopes to enrol another 40 to 50 students when the second term starts in September and about 300 within three years. There is space for about 900 students to enrol at the branch near Airport Road. So far, the centre has offered courses in filmmaking ranging in duration from four weeks to one year, but is now launching programmes in acting for films and digital film production.

It also plans to start courses in screenwriting and broadcast journalism, with the aim of the Abu Dhabi branch offering the same courses as NYFA's campuses in New York and Los Angeles. The academy will soon open a branch in Madrid and also runs courses for part of the year in cities including Paris, Tokyo and Budapest. John Nodilo, the newly appointed director of NYFA Abu Dhabi, said people in the emirate had been very eager to help students' filmmaking around the city. "It's very open and welcoming," he said. "In LA, it can be hard to find locations."

There, he said, everyone was accustomed to and even blasé about film, but here "everybody is sincerely interested". Although fees are higher than for most university courses, ranging from US$3,500 (Dh12,850) for a four-week course to $34,000 for a year, Mr Young said someone did not necessarily have to go to film school to become a filmmaker and there were no guarantees of a job at the end. The school did not keep statistics, he said, on the number of former students employed in the film industry.

"It's not as much about doing this to get a job; it's doing it to master a craft. Once you get a job, you can employ what you've done [at film school]," he said. "They do come out with a body of work to show people, and they can submit their films to film festivals and post them on the internet to get interest in their work." Most students dreamed of becoming feature-film directors, producers, screenwriters, cinematographers or actors - "the glamour positions", as Mr Young called them.

Every week, he said, NYFA heard news about a former student who had gone on to achieve success. "The opportunities are there to become an internationally released filmmaker, but we don't really take credit when that happens," he said. "We know how hard that is. We don't pretend they went here and that made them a famous director." There are diverse openings outside feature films, according to Mr Young, with students able to make short advertisements, documentaries and industrial films for companies.