ABU DHABI // A long-awaited movie sequel set in Abu Dhabi opens worldwide today - but not in Abu Dhabi. The local distributors of Sex and The City 2 never applied for permission to screen the film in the UAE and never submitted it for approval, the National Media Council (NMC) said yesterday.
A spokesman for the NMC said: "The first Sex and the City movie was not shown in the UAE because the local distributor never applied for it to be shown. As for Sex and the City 2, it [the distributor] has also not asked us for permission for the film to be shown. This is something of the distributor's own choice." The NMC oversees all films and media distributed in the country and must approve the film before it hits the screens. But despite reports that it had been banned, an official at the NMC said yesterday that the council was never sent a copy to review. Without seeing the content, NMC officials say, a decision on whether or not the film could be shown could not be made.
Film distributors often do not apply for permission to screen a film if they feel it will be too extensively cut. Sex and the City 2, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, follows the escapades of Carrie Bradshaw and her three fashionable female friends from New York as they jet to Abu Dhabi for a holiday. The women are seen taking camel rides in the "Abu Dhabi desert", and Abu Dhabi is mentioned twice in the official trailer.
However, outdoor scenes "from Abu Dhabi" were actually shot in Morocco after the director, Michael Patrick King, was denied permission to film in the UAE. The NMC said the decision to set the film here anyway "misleads" audiences. "The film company has made a lot of publicity about the fact that Sex and the City 2 is 'set in Abu Dhabi', although none of it was filmed here," said the NMC official.
"This was a deliberate attempt to mislead the audience about where the film was shot, even though it has been admitted it was filmed on location in Morocco." However, sources who reviewed the film's script have said the film relied on many stereotypes of the Arab world and presents a slanted and offensive view of Abu Dhabi and its residents. Scenes depicting the Arabian desert were shot 6,500 kilometres away in North Africa. A nightclub scene that viewers are led to believe takes place in the capital was in fact filmed in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The trailer even shows an Emirates Palace hotel lookalike.
Warner Bros, which distributes the film, would not comment on whether the company had applied to the NMC for permission to show it. "The film is not being released in the UAE," a Warner Bros spokesman said. "Many Hollywood films are not released in the region. Neither the first Sex and the City nor the current film will be released there." Warner Bros told Reuters this month that it has no plans to release the film in any country in the Middle East.
The 146-minute movie will be shown in Morocco, however, the Warner Bros official said. The first Sex and the City movie was a huge commercial success, taking US$415million (Dh1.5 billion) at the box office worldwide. The sequel, which reunites the original cast, has had mixed reviews from advance screenings. Slant Magazine called it "even less significant than its predecessor", but the Hollywood Reporter had the protagonists in "fine comic form" and predicted the movie "is going to be a smash."
Local reaction to the movie being based in Abu Dhabi has also been mixed. Ahmed Arshi, 29, a filmmaker from the capital, said he was excited that his home city was being made famous, but disappointed it is not the real city on the screen. "It was so nice to hear the words Abu Dhabi from such a famous show," he said. "People are looking forward to watching this movie and they will ask, 'why didn't they actually come here?'"
Mario Nicotra, who set up the Amateur Film Makers Group in Abu Dhabi, said the decision not to allow filming in the UAE was a blow to the local industry. "It's a shame when film-makers are denied access to film on location, especially as it makes the story more realistic and authentic," he said. "The local film industry is losing out. It would have been a boost for local people, but the boost for film making has gone to Morocco now."