‘There is no UAE film industry’

By Tim Smythe, CEO of Filmworks

The question is ‘does the UAE really have a film industry’? At present, if we don’t take into account the television industry – because unlike most countries, there is really no crossover between the film industry and the television industry – to declare that we have a film industry entails continual work, whether generated locally or whether facilitated for an international market.

What actually exists in the UAE is a film industry that caters to television advertising and therefore cannot be deemed a proper industry because it is solely dependent upon the number of television commercials filmed in the country. The industry decreases or increases based solely upon this factor. So, while production values have grown quite high in the UAE, for this to continue will require the creation of an industry that is not purely reliant upon advertising. Otherwise, the trend for local productions to travel will continue to follow the best production values versus pricing.

For there to be real development and progress what is needed is the creation of a sustainable film industry. To create a real film industry requires the development of local films and the facilitation of international film on a continual basis, which results in a steady flow of work that creates employment opportunities, attracts experienced crew and offers possibilities to train and develop local crews.

In the past six years Filmworks has only been involved in producing three notable films, with a few other production companies involved in some others. This hardly constitutes an industry. During the same period of time we have been involved in more than 40 feature films that could have come to the country but didn’t, of which some really high profile studio films were turned away. This has resulted in an international loss of confidence in bringing productions to the UAE, coupled with limited funding for local filmmakers, which has led to negative growth for our industry.

In reality, a country can only develop a sustainable local film industry if there are enough cinema screens and a large enough population for a film to recoup its investment in its country of origin – both from cinema and second tier releases on TV and DVD. As with many countries throughout the world, this is not a possibility. Therefore these industries are subsidised through government incentives directed towards subsidising local production and incentivising international production. This is very common throughout Europe.

This is done for two main reasons. Firstly, to ensure the continuation and development of local culture, and secondly – and just as importantly – a healthy film industry contributes greatly to the GDP of a country. It needs to be noted that every dollar spent through incentives can translate to up to a $5 return on investment for the local economy. This is the main reason that nearly every country with an existing feature film industry has incentive programmes.

At present there are some positive indicators coming out of Abu Dhabi, but until there is a structured road plan that focuses on both key factors of developing local talent (this can include expatriate talent) and incentivising international production,
the opportunity for the development of a viable local film industry remains bleak. While one must recognise that there are
developments like Dubai Studio City, Imagenation in Abu Dhabi and the recent Al Noor Film Fund in Qatar, it will take far more than this to create and sustain a film industry for which we can all be proud of.

Until then, we need to continue to do the best with what we have, because no matter what, it is still possible to make films. It
is not a matter of handouts in order to get films made, but it is a different matter to discuss the creation of a ‘film industry’ versus the making of films.

So, to all directors and producers, persevere and you shall succeed as long as your work is good and you are committed. And for us in advertising, production values rule so keep improving your production standards and the future for 2010 should not be so bleak.


One Response to ‘There is no UAE film industry’

  1. Tariq Syed says:

    I completely agree with Tim, and thats the reality, We are working on an Emirati feature film in English and Arabic to be able to meet our distributions and revenue targets. It has been a challenging time finding good actors, and getting our own resources and budgets for the cinema. The present industry especially for Film Production needs support both from locally based business conglomerates to encourage, support and possibly sponsor such initiatives, not just the government alone and also from international fraternity,such as from Bollywood with good meaningful cinema and/or develop a consortium of film financing and film distributing bodies to venture here in the UAE, there are opportunities , great stories to tell from the UAE and I am very hopeful of the local talent emerging to meet standards as desired with an international appeal. I am relaising it more, as I am casting for my first Emirati English and Arabic movie, and more to follow soon, if all goes well InshaAllah!

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