Content is king

Region on right track, says Grand Cinemas/Gulf Film CEO
New Grand Cinemas CEO Jean Ramia.
New Grand Cinemas CEO Jean Ramia.

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As the region seeks to establish itself as a serious destination for film making, what might it take to see locally produced films make a mark in the region’s cinemas? While local content production is clearly on the up, the region’s successes still remain largely on an international co-production level.

Oscars for The Help, and box office success with Mission Impossible: IV may have increased the region’s standing as a funder and location, but notable exceptions such as City of Life aside, locally produced content has still found it difficult to make serious inroads at either regional or international cinemas.

Director Mahmoud Kaabour noted on securing a Gulf cinema release for his documentary Teta, Alf Mara, that the success had come mainly due to ‘a lot of personal effort,’ while some local film makers, such as Khalid Al Mahmood, have called for government intervention to screen a quota of locally-produced films.

Jean Ramia, however, CEO of the region’s biggest cinema chain, Grand Cinemas, and distributor Gulf Film, seems certain this is not necessary, and that by creating the right content the situation can correct itself: “Local productions can do well – both Sea Shadow and City of Life have enjoyed successful runs. It’s a very challenging market.

Between English language films, Bollywood, Hollywood and Arabic productions we’re usually looking at at least seven new films every week, and there are only a limited number of screens. Obviously a small site with six or eight screens is going to have to change films very regularly, wherever they’re made.”

He continues: “The local industry is developing slowly in international terms, mainly due to relatively low investment from companies and private investors. We currently screen probably two to four local films every year, but I don’t think regulation is the way to increase that.

We show films for our audience, and if there’s box office potential we’ll screen a film no matter where it is made, but ultimately we have to cover our costs. We’re not saying local films need to gross $100M, but they need to be commercially viable.

“Mission Impossible is the perfect example for those seeking to make films locally. It may not technically be a local film, but it had a local producer, it was shot here in Dubai, it had good content, a good marketing push, and it’s the highest grossing film in UAE history.

“Both the Abu Dhabi and Dubai industries are always out in force at Cannes and the major festivals selling their cities as locations for film makers, Studio City is pushing for more in-house production, and it’s a combination of all these factors that will gradually see the local industry becoming more successful.

We’ve already seen the likes of Nadine Labaki (Where Do We Go Now?) and City of Life achieve considerable international success, and I think that proves that with the right content it can happen.”

Key figures
- $693M
MI: IV worldwide box office

- 1989
Gulf Films enters film
distribution business

- 1991
GF opens first cinema

- AED500K
City of Life opening weekend take at UAE box office

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