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01 December 2023

DIFF brings big bucks

By Bindu Rai

IN THE SPOTLIGHT The Dubai International Film Festival is leading the charge in encouraging film investment into the region (GETTY)

The real story of the movie business in the Emirates lies beyond George Clooney. Film investment in the UAE looks set to cross the Dh2 billion mark over the next year, as local and international production houses continue to pump money into the country’s economy.

Leading the charge in encouraging more foreign film investment into the region is the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), the fourth edition of which runs from tonight until December 16.

The Dubai Film Commission, a DIFF initiative, is linking international film distributors with Arab filmmakers looking for funding, says Abdulhamid Juma, Chairman of DIFF. The initiative follows a strategic alliance with the Cannes Producers Network.

“Fifteen projects have already been shortlisted, from which three winners will be awarded $15,000 (Dh55,095) each and flown to a prominent networking event at Cannes next year,” he tells Business 24|7.

DIFF also introduced its Industry Office project last year, which hosted guests from some of the most reputed industry companies, including ArteFrance, Fox Searchlight, BBC Films, Jordan’s Royal Film Commission and the Cannes Festival.

Industry Office Associate Director Jane Williams says: “In the second year of operations, our initiatives make the networking more exclusive and purposeful, and will lead to fruitful partnerships and co-productions.”

The money is coming in, all right. Warner Bros’s Syriana, shot in Dubai, worked as a stepping-stone for the firm and its partners to pledge $500m (Dh1.836bn) in a joint venture fund to develop films in the UAE.

Warner Bros Chairman and Chief Executive Barry Meyer reveals: “It’s only the beginning of what could be an even deeper relationship encompassing film and video distribution, both in the Gulf and regionally.”

Over the next year, smaller production houses like International Gulf Media and Film Development, Istar Films, D-Seven, Masterplan Film Production and the Abu Dhabi Film Commission are investing a combined amount of Dh230.5m in Arabic language films, which will be shot in and around the UAE.

Dubai Studio City (DSC) will serve as the backbone for film production in the region. Its Location Approval Services have already facilitated a number of foreign films in the region this year, including two major Bollywood films, Partner and Naqaab. Jamal Al Sharif, Director of DSC, says: “We are committed to creating a conducive environment for film professionals.”
Mona Al Ruwaini, marketing director of Pyramedia, the production company that handled the local casting schedules for The Kingdom, says it is the efforts of the UAE Government that have encouraged filmmakers to utilise local resources.
Ready for the red carpet
Clooney leads the DIFF red carpet, followed closely by actresses Sharon Stone, Dita von Teese and Laura Ramsey. Stone is here for tomorrow’s amfAR auction, proceeds of which will go to Aids study, while von Teese will be present at a MAC make-up workshop.

Grammy winner Estefan will perform on Thursday at Dubai Media City after  the screening of her husband’s film 90 Millas (90 Miles). The film tells of some of the greatest Latin musicians, their struggle to get heard and how they kept the music alive for around 50 years.

Several Indian film stars will roll up, led by Shah, who is cast as a Scotland Yard detective in Shoot on Sight. Also attending – Shabana Azmi, Ayesha Dharkar, Rahul Bose (he famously bared his behind) Mithun Chakravorty, and former telly totty Laila Rouass.

The Numbers

Dh132m is the estimated revenue anticipated through tourism alone during DIFF this year. In 2006, 4,000 room nights and 600 international flights were booked by the festival.