With many countries in the region facing political turmoil in
the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings, the woman in charge
of the United Arab Emirates's media hub says filming there is
seen as a safe option.
"At a time when other regional centers are reducing their
activities, Abu Dhabi is picking up and saying it's important to
have that kind of funding behind Arab talent," Noura al-Kaabi,
chief executive officer of twofour54, the commercial arm of Abu
Dhabi's Media Zone Authority, told Reuters.
"It's benefitting Abu Dhabi but also it is helping Arab
culture," she added.
In the past year, the capital of the United Arab Emirates has
attracted a host of foreign movies including Sony Pictures
Entertainment's "Deliver us from Evil", Universal Pictures'
"Fast & Furious 7" and the Bollywood feature film "Bang Bang"
from Fox Star Studios.
This is despite Abu Dhabi being a newcomer to the industry in a
region where Egypt, dubbed the "Hollywood of the Middle East",
has more than a century of film-making history and, if not
there, foreign producers often chose the deserts of North Africa
over the Gulf to shoot movies.
Founded in 2008, the media hub provides a range of services
including training, supporting UAE nationals and Arabs in the
field and a host of production and post-production facilities.
Twofour54 is also the main force behind the Abu Dhabi Film
Commission which is in charge of luring foreign film productions
to the capital, the main incentive being a 30 percent rebate.
Twofour54 intaj, the media hub's production services company,
facilitates work inside the emirate after deals are struck.
The rebate scheme offers movie producers 30 percent back off
everything they spend during their time in Abu Dhabi, from
production costs to accommodation.
Still, Kaabi argues it is not just the rebate that closes deals,
rather it's the whole package.
"It's about how you facilitate the whole process," Kaabi said.
"All other Abu Dhabi entities are supporting us from the
municipality to the tourism and culture authority, they are all
with us and see the importance of the process and how it
benefits Abu Dhabi."
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Abu Dhabi is just three hours away from Mumbai, an added benefit to
Bollywood productions. "It is as if they are flying within India
itself, so it makes sense," Kaabi said.
But it's not just Hollywood and Bollywood that are going to Abu
Dhabi, which is increasingly being viewed as a safe haven for
neighboring Arab production houses, including from Syria, torn by a
three-year-long civil war.
"We've had two Syrian production houses move here and we are also in
talks with Syrian directors and production entities to help more
with Arabic television dramas," Kaabi said.
Clacket Media, one of two Syrian production houses that have made
Abu Dhabi their new home, has cast Arab stars from Egypt, Syria,
Algeria and Lebanon in its series "Al Ikhwa" (the Siblings), airing
on several pan-Arab satellite channels.
While Kaabi praises the technology behind "Al Ikhwa's" production
with its "crisp and beautiful" images, some criticism directed at
the portrayal of Arab expatriate life in the capital as ripe with
adultery and alcohol raises questions on what plots are acceptable
in the conservative Gulf.
Kaabi said scripts of foreign films are reviewed prior to granting
approval to make sure they are in line with local culture and do not
contain political content that might be deemed offensive.
"We have a religion and a culture that we need to respect but that's
never a disabler," Kaabi said.
"Star Wars wasn't screened prior to approval though, there's nothing
too political about it," she said.
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Michael
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