By Damian Reilly
Can the region add that extra dimension and become a movie-making powerhouse, asks Damian Reilly.
Are the Gulf's film festivals really working? Dubai has one, Abu Dhabi too, and last November if you were in Qatar you might have met a man who looked an awful lot like Robert De Niro kicking about at the grandiosely named Doha Tribeca Film Festival.
Even Bahrain has one. Apart from the fact that it is bizarre to have four film festivals so close to one another - two in the same country in the case of Abu Dhabi's and Dubai's - what is the point of them? Are they merely intended to give the people who live in those places a nice day out? Are they attempts to create a little glamour?
Or are they - as Abdulhamid Juma, the man behind Dubai's film festival, would have you believe - exercises intended to kick start Gulf film-making, turning it from non-existence into a multi-million dollar industry? Juma says: "The Gulf is what I call the last frontier of film making. Everywhere else makes films, except us."
I am hesitant to write here that Gulf film making is still pretty much non-existent, despite all of these film festivals designed to celebrate it. Hesitant because Arab cinema isn't really my thing - I'm French art house or nothing - but certainly it doesn't appear to be going through any sort of golden era. I'm told on good authority that all good Arabic films come out of Egypt, and there are no Gulf film stars to speak of.
Making films is obviously the best way to make to make money in the film industry. But if you can't do that, then letting other people make films on your property is not a bad alternative.
Dubai - historically portrayed in Hollywood films as a place where nefarious people lurk - has realised this, and was rushing to get Studio City finished before the financial crisis put the kibosh on it. Studio City, which is apparently half finished now and will be finished when the economy picks up, was intended to be 22 million square feet's worth of the most state of the art soundstages and production facilities on the face of the planet.
The message Dubai wanted to send to Hollywood was: "come, make your movies here. Fly your massive production teams here on our airline, stay in our hotels, hire our people, eat in our restaurants, pay to close our streets, pay to use our facilities." If it had worked everyone would have won - cheaper film making for Hollywood would have equalled lucrative film making for Dubai.
Perhaps the delay has actually been a blessing in disguise, because there is quite clearly a revolution about to happen in cinema, one that Dubai and the other Gulf states with a penchant for films can get in on the ground level if they move quickly. Anyone who has seen Avatar in 3D - and that is a lot of people judging from box office figures so far ($1.14bn in three weeks) - will attest that two dimensional film making is over.
Hollywood is rushing to go three dimensional. Old films such as Star Wars and The Matrix are being 3D'ified, and films in production now, such as Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, are having budgets increased for the extra dimension. Interestingly, there are only about six companies in the world that can make a film three dimensional retrospectively.
It is these firms and their ilk that Dubai or other Gulf states should be rolling out the red carpet to. Rather as Masdar is an initiative to take ownership of new energy technology, the Gulf could try to attract the very best minds in this new era of cinema. The technology is about to advance very quickly - in no time 3D will be the norm. Anywhere that can make itself part of this gold rush will make billions of dollars.
Damian Reilly is the editor of Arabian Business.
How can the writer say he's "French art house or nothing" before saying 2D cinema is over? Either A: He's been to see Avatar etc and therefore lying about being "French art house or nothing". or B: He hasn't been to see Avatar etc therefore he's writing an op-ed piece from a completely uninformed position. Also could also add that "French art house or nothing." must rank as the most pretentious five words I've ever read on ArabianBusiness.com.
Did you watch 'Jules et Jim' in 3-D? Or even Tarab Fashion, a UAE-produced film that came out 3 years ago from the UAE's apparently non-existent film industry?
It would be nice to be able to watch movies at UAE cinemas without huge gaping holes cut out of them by local censors, assuming they have not banned the entire movie altogether. Given the rather 'gritty' nature of film genres in Europe and the US, and the list of things you cannot put in a film in the UAE, it seems likely the UAE's offerings would seem a little bland to worldwide audiences. Probably best to focus on children's movies or accept it's only going to have a market in this region.