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05 March 2024

Hollywood courts local investors at film festival

By James Reinl

Hollywood has come out in force to court the Gulf petrodollar at Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF), with insiders saying this could spell the end for a glut of movies that stereotype Arabs as terrorists.

Dozens of producers from Los Angeles have braved the 19-hour flight to the Emirates in a bid to secure funding for movie productions that are increasingly being marketed as Arab-friendly or Muslim-friendly.

Coming in the wake of the multi-billion dirham deals between Warner Bros and Abu Dhabi Media Co and the massive Sony Corp stake purchased by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, it seems footsoldiers of Los Angeles will not go empty handed.

Ahmad Zahra, producer and CEO of California-based Zahra Pictures, is visiting DIFF to promote AmericanEast, a controversial tale of life for Arab-Americans in post 9/11 Los Angeles, while also seeking between $20-30 million (Dh73.4-110m) funding for a series of five more films about US Muslims.

“I think everybody is looking at the Gulf at the moment,” he told Emirates Business 24|7. “The Dubai film festival has focused a lot of attention on films in the region and so there are a many people looking for money to fund their projects. Hollywood producers are always looking for investment and Dubai appears to be a place where investments are booming. We’re all here trying to get a little piece of the pie.”

Sources say the deals are a marriage of convenience in which global entertainment firms gain access to the expanding Gulf markets while the GCC countries can diversify their economies away from oil exports.

For Arab actors and directors in the United States, the cashflow could breath new life into a filmindustry that since 9/11 has cast the majority of Arab actors as terrorists, notably, the TV series 24, in which Kiefer Sutherland plays agent Jack Bower in day-long crusades against so-called jihadis.

Tony Shalhoub, an Arab American actor who played a detective in TV show Monk, is in Dubai to promote his film AmericanEast, using a festival press conference to attack negative depictions of Arabs in American drama.

“Many Arabs and Muslims are presented in a negative light in the media and the movies. For many Arab actors in Los Angeles the variety of roles is very limited,” he said.