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Welcome to the latest edition of The Arts Edit, the weekly newsletter from The National's Abu Dhabi newsroom rounding up this week's most noteworthy arts and culture stories.



The highly anticipated Dune: Part Two had its Middle Eastern premiere in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

It was a gift for fans in the UAE, as director Denis Villeneuve and stars Josh Brolin and Dave Bautista signed autographs and took pictures with thrilled visitors on the red carpet.

More so, it was an act of gratitude. After all, there is no Dune: Part Two without Abu Dhabi.

Josh Brolin, left, with director Denis Villeneuve in Al Wathba, where large parts of the Dune sequel were filmed. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Josh Brolin, left, with director Denis Villeneuve in Al Wathba, where large parts of the Dune sequel were filmed. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Two years ago, after Villeneuve finalised the script, he travelled to the emirate to develop the film’s visual composition. The rolling sandy expanse of the Liwa desert – dunes towering up to 300 metres high – not only informed the film’s aesthetic but served as its foundation.

“Did it influence the way we shot the movie? Tremendously,” Villeneuve tells The National. "The main reason I came here was to be inspired directly by the desert.

“You cannot create those shots that we’ve made on a soundstage in a back lot. I designed all the shots according to the landscape.”

Having seen it – though I'm not permitted to share our review just yet (look out for that on Wednesday) – I can say that no film I’ve seen to date has captured the majesty of the Empty Quarter quite like Dune: Part Two. And with the film seemingly poised to become a generational classic like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, these images of Abu Dhabi may stay etched in minds worldwide for decades to come.

When I spoke to Villeneuve back in 2021, it was clear that he would spend even more time in Abu Dhabi for the second.

"What I found in Abu Dhabi is unmatchable," he said at the time. "There’s a scale to the dunes and the desert in a variety of shapes that we thought was absolutely mesmerising.

"There’s also some climatic conditions there that were perfect for us because of the proximity to the city, it's like a strange kind of haze in that air that I was looking for that matched totally with the look of the film.”

He needed help to make it happen and found the perfect partners in the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and Creative Media Authority, which provided all the support needed to make a genuine masterpiece.

A village had to be built in the middle of the desert for the production. More than 1,000 worked on the film while it was in Abu Dhabi, and ensuring swift mobility of equipment, cast and crew was paramount.

“We were filming for 27 days in the desert,” Sameer Al Jaberi, head of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, says. “You might think of accommodation. So where would they be staying? Obviously, Qasr Al Sarab did an amazing job housing almost all of the crew, but there were still more.

"We had 300 local crew, 250 international and 500 extras. That’s a massive number. To come up with a creative solution, along with Epic Films, the local production company, built a village in the desert.”

While you may have to wait until next week to see the film, as Dune: Part Two opens in the UAE on February 29, it will surely be worth it. Keep an eye out for more of our exclusive coverage of the film until then.

And in the meantime, if you’re a fan of the film's score, don’t miss the chance to hear it live in Dubai this spring, as Hans Zimmer will be returning.

William Mullally
Arts & Culture Editor


Untold Dubai will return next year

Untold Dubai will return to Dubai next year, festival co-founder Edy Chereji has confirmed.

The four-day music event at Expo City Dubai was attended by more than 100,000 people. It also marked the first global expansion of the Romanian festival.

“This was really one of the goals when we first discussed bringing Untold almost two years ago,” said Chereji.

“As well as creating the kind of event that can attract music lovers and families to travel to the UAE, we wanted this event to really act as a showcase for Expo City Dubai itself.

“We showed event organisers and various entertainment industries, from film to fashion, what this site can really offer. We also look forward to coming back with even more great music acts next year.”

In the meantime, Saeed Saeed's report from the final day can be found here.


Sotheby’s auction in Dubai to pay homage to Beirut

Artworks transcending Lebanon's political complexities will go on show in Dubai this month before being auctioned.

They form part of a coming sale in the UK titled A Love Letter to Beirut, which will be on display in the DIFC from February 26 to March 1. The greater collection of work showcasing Lebanon’s cultural heritage and its influence on Arab artists will go under the hammer in London on April 23.

It brings together varying works, from figurative to abstract paintings and sculpture, by Lebanese and Arab artists who have been influenced or inspired by Beirut.

“Art seems to have transcended the complex politics of the country and radiated beyond its borders to an international level,” Alexandra Roy, Sotheby’s head of sales, modern and contemporary Middle East, tells our reporter Maan Jalal. “The Middle East, in general, has also gone through a lot. This shows us that art transcends politics in many ways. I think that's magical and inspirational.”

The Dubai exhibition will celebrate nearly 30 Lebanese creatives, including artist and poet Etel Adnan as well as the painters Aref El Rayess, Nabil Nahas, Saliba Douaihy and Paul Guiragossian.



  • Alserkal Art Week at Alserkal Avenue, Dubai – February 25 to March 3
  • Simple Minds at Coca-Cola Arena, Dubai – February 27
  • Art Dubai 2024 at Madinat Jumeirah – March 1 to 3


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Updated: February 21, 2024, 11:41 AM