Film industry in Abu Dhabi produces blockbuster subsidy

Abu Dhabi offers a 30 per cent subsidy on films made in the emirate, in a move set to boost its fledgling production industry.

From left: Emirati filmmakers Abdulla Al Kaabi, Mustafa Abbas, Mariam Al Serkal and Nawaf Al Janahi were chosen by the Abu Dhabi Film Commission to represent and promote the UAE film industry at the Cannes Film Festival. Stephen Lock for The National
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Movies and television shows shot in Abu Dhabi will soon qualify for a 30 per cent subsidy under an initiative that is expected to save filmmakers millions of dollars in production costs.

The media zone twofour54, along with the related Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC), said international productions made in the emirate would qualify for a rebate on spending of up to 30 per cent.

"We want to properly encourage studios to see Abu Dhabi and the UAE as the go-to place," said Noura Al Kaabi, the chief executive of twofour54.

The incentive scheme was announced at the Cannes Film Festival, which runs until May 27. The Abu Dhabi Film Commission announced at the festival that several Emirati filmmakers had been chosen to promote the UAE film industry. The representatives include Nawaf Al Janahi, who directed the movie Sea Shadow.

Film executives said the incentive scheme, which starts in September, could result in the number of days in which films are shot in the emirate increasing by as much as half.

"It's definitely the answer to boosting the industry in Abu Dhabi," said Tim Smythe, the chief executive of the production house Filmworks, which facilitated the shooting of Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in Dubai. "In 2013, I would say that there's going to be a 30 to 50 per cent boost."

The film rebate is billed as the "region's first incentive scheme", twofour54 said. It will apply to feature films, TV programmes, documentaries, and advertising and music video production.

Costs eligible for the rebate include contracting UAE-registered film crews, costs for temporary accommodation and flights booked on Etihad Airways.

However, Mr Smythe said that the scheme could attract productions away from neighbouring Dubai - and called for a nationwide system of rebates.

"It has a very strong potential of taking business out of Dubai, especially as more and more locations come online in Abu Dhabi," he said. "If it's done on a national level, it would boost the industry tremendously. Because it's not just Abu Dhabi locations that films would be looking at, it's locations throughout the whole of the UAE."

Ali Mostafa, the director of City of Life, the UAE's first major home-grown film, said he hoped Dubai would follow Abu Dhabi's lead.

"This is one of the first incentive schemes that has happened in the region," he said. "It's definitely a big step in the right direction. I hope Dubai follows suit with the same thing."

Ms Al Kaabi said twofour54 was in discussions to offer something similar in other emirates.

"We've been discussing with Dubai Studio City about how we will collaborate in the future with our scheme," she said.

Michael Garin, the chief executive of the Abu Dhabi film company Image Nation, said the 30 per cent rebate was in line with film incentives in other countries.

"This will make Abu Dhabi extremely competitive in the international arena," said Mr Garin. "We're delighted with this decision, because now it will allow Abu Dhabi to compete on a level playing field for production."

Image Nation is part of Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns and publishes The National.

Projects commissioned by companies based in the UAE will not be eligible for the scheme. However, co-productions between a UAE company and an international partner will be eligible for the rebates, according to the ADFC.

Mr Garin said Image Nation often collaborated with international companies, and so it would benefit.

"Image Nation will be able to further expand its activities and attract international productions and co-productions to Abu Dhabi," he said.

Examples of blockbusters to be filmed in Abu Dhabi include part of The Bourne Legacy, twofour54 said.

Government-sanctioned incentive schemes are common in big international film markets.

"The majority of films made are being shot in cities or countries where there are incentives," said Mr Smythe.

But such schemes have been slow to take off in the Gulf region. This is partly because they often rely on tax breaks in other markets, and there is only minimal taxation levied in countries such as the UAE.

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