Dubai: the new driving force of film production in the Emirates?

Article  by  Kevin PICCIAU  •  Published 22.08.2012  •  Updated 22.08.2012
Mision: Impossible 4 Tom Cruise
[NEWS] The Dubai Film and Television Commission held its inaugural meeting on 19 July 2012. Its first mission is to make Dubai a regional driving force for film and television production that is capable of taking on large international projects.
On 19 July 2012, the first meeting of the Dubai Film and TV Commission was held in Dubai. This new body was set up on 28 May 2012, by way of an official decree by His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince and President of the Executive Board of Dubai, with the aim of putting in place a strategy to develop local production and to host a growing number of international productions, for both television and film projects.

The main mission of the Dubai Film and TV Commission (DFTC) – which has become the only body with the power to issue film permits – will be to give the country a programme for encouraging  film production, something which had been sorely lacking. The cosmopolitan city of Dubai has nothing to prove as far as it scenic landscape is concerned, if only thanks to the Burj Khalifa, the highest tower in the world[+] Note828 metres tall.X [1], but over the past seven years it has seen at least 30 large scale film projects slip away, according to Tim Smythe, the managing director of the production company Filmworks [+] NoteBased in Dubai.X [2]. The film-makers were forced to give up on filming in Dubai for purely economic reasons: without state subsidy, the budgets were not viable, especially for independent projects.

The government of Dubai cannot be accused of total indifference on the matter. Over recent years, it has given financial aid to two films shot partly in the capital of the United Arab Emirates: City of Life (2009), a local production, and the American super-production Mission: Impossible 4 – Ghost Protocol (2004). The latter left its mark on people’s minds thanks to a spectacular scene in the Burj Khalifa, and in particular on (the outer wall of) the tower. The government of Dubai did indeed take a few initiatives, but the problem was that they remained extremely marginal. Such a stance does not send a clear signal to producers to encourage them to choose Dubai for their film. Jamal Al Sharif, president of the new Film and TV Commission, drew attention to the utmost need to set up a “structured funding programme”: the idea is to create a formal structure that complies with well-defined rules and possesses automatic systems for production funding and incentives. The aim is to present Dubai to producers throughout the world as an ideal place for shooting films, and indeed to attract large scale film projects that could bring benefits to the country’s economy and more broadly for the whole region.
Official trailer, City of life (2009)
According to Shivani Pandya, director of the Dubai International Film Festival, reported by Ben Flanagan for The National, productions such as Mission: Impossible have an impact on the economy as a whole because they call upon a number of services (from construction and finance to transport) and have an effect on tourism. Jamal Al Sharif also drew attention to the close link between film and tourism nowadays, referring to the “interesting emergent trend [...] that viewers are increasingly making travel decisions as a result of exposure to locations featured in popular films or TV shows”. According to the president of the Commission, who is also known as the managing director of Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City, some countries such as New Zealand have enjoyed an increase in tourism of 40 % thanks to the craze that surrounded – and indeed which continues to surround – the Lord of the Rings trilogy. If we consider the overall economic stakes, we understand why the board of the Commission comprises not only specialists from the world of television and film, from both the private and public sector, but also representatives from the Department of Tourism and Commerce for Dubai and the Department of Economic Development. The airline Emirates and the hotel group Jumeirah, which do business throughout the Emirates, have also been allowed to send representatives.

The setting up of the Dubai Film and TV Commission is part of a regional movement. It was announced at the end of May 2012, just a few days after Abu Dhabi revealed its intention to grant reductions of up to 30% to foreign film teams who came to shoot films or series in any country in the United Arab Emirates[+] Note“Dubai to have its own film and TV commission”, Variety Arabia, May 2012.X [3]. These reductions could apply to accommodation, flights booked with Etihad Airways and for the hiring of actors from the Emirates. The collaboration between Abu Dhabi and Dubai to promote productions in the Emirates and to attract more international projects to their countries was confirmed by Jamal Al Sharif: “It's a national duty to develop the industry overall in the UAE,” he declared. So far, the Dubai Film and TV Commission has not revealed exactly what form the help to production will take, particularly the sums involved. That reductions will be granted for various services seems obvious. According to Tim Smythe, who played a crucial role in obtaining financial support (from the government and from local companies) for Mission: Impossible 4, the reduction granted has to be “tangible”: it should cover a whole range of services and should not be below the threshold of 20%, or the appeal for foreign producers will not be sufficiently strong.

Translated from French by Peter Moss
Photo credits:
Main image: screenshot of the film Mission: Impossible 4 Ghost Protocol / Kevin Picciau
  • 1. 828 metres tall.
  • 2. Based in Dubai.
  • 3. “Dubai to have its own film and TV commission”, Variety Arabia, May 2012.
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