Govt incentives 'critical' to UAE film industry

Producer calls for financial structure to spur production.
On the set of the first fully Emirati-funded feature-length movie, City of Life.
On the set of the first fully Emirati-funded feature-length movie, City of Life.

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It is “critical” that the UAE government offers incentives for foreign filmmakers to shoot in the Emirates, if the country’s own fledgling movie industry is to survive, one of Dubai’s leading producers has warned ahead of the Gulf Film Festival 2010, which begins Thursday.

“If you want Arab cinema you have to do something like this,” said Tim Smythe, CEO of Filmworks.

Smythe has worked on major Hollywood productions which filmed in the UAE, including Warner Brothers’ Syriana, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, and Universal Studios’ The Kingdom starring Jamie Foxx.

However, he warned that while most countries around the world offer so-called ‘soft money’ in the form of tax breaks and financial incentives to attract productions to their shores, the lack of any such provision in the UAE means producers opt for other locations, such as Morocco or Tunisia.

“There is no structure set up for soft money in this country. [Its establishment] is critical. If they want to have a film industry, that is critical,” Smythe said.

Smythe added that movies filmed in the UAE would boost the local economy, to the extent that for every dollar invested in a film in the country, another seven dollars would be invested in accommodation, production costs and jobs.

While there are film funds in the UAE, they predominantly invest in big blockbuster films that tend to be filmed overseas.

For example, Imagenation, which is owned by the Abu Dhabi Media Company, launched a $1bn fund in 2008 to invest in film projects and is committed to developing, producing and financing ten to fifteen films by 2013.

Last year, it announced it was involved in funding a political thriller starring Sean Penn and an epic prison movie starring Colin Farrell and Ed Harris.

The Gulf Film Festival, meanwhile, takes place in Dubai from April 8 to 14. The annual non-profit event aims to showcase Gulf cinema and the professionals and students working in the industry.

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