Can Abu Dhabi rival Hollywood?

It had all of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood but it was the Middle East International Film Festival.
Can Abu Dhabi rival Hollywood?
By Claire Ferris-Lay
Thu 18 Oct 2007 04:36 PM

It had all of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood - one of the biggest movie media moguls Harvey Weinstein offering a keynote speech, Oscar-winning director Paul Haggis conducting master a for film students, a huge opening party a by the cream of the movie industry and royalty, and a film financing fund for a non-specified amount for local filmmakers. It was of course the Middle East International Film Festival, which was held in Abu Dhabi last week.

Following the success of the festival, Abu Dhabi is now being touted as the next big moviemaking destination to rival Hollywood. As Abu Dhabi aims to capture this unique and popular multi-billion dollar industry it is also adding to its vast collection of show-stopping events and world-famous attraction. To name but a few it already has the Louvre, Guggenheim and the Formula 1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - due to take place during next year's racing season.

Which producer is going to throw millions of dollars at someone with little or no background in Hollywood?

Despite this endless list of trophy assets, the capital has come under severe criticism: namely, can it really buy culture? The decision to buy the Louvre created uproar but the capital stood its ground and will soon have a fully-fledged art museum housed in its capital district, Saadiyat Island. Now, following the success of the film festival the next question must surely be whether Abu Dhabi can build a film industry to rival that of Hollywood.

No it can't, but it can certainly try. The Hollywood film industry was built up over decades by a number of now very prominent studios, but unlike buildings and museums Abu Dhabi can't just build an entire new industry. But what it can do is start building its own film trade.

In its quest for worldwide dominance of the film business, the emirate already has a number of conquests under its belt, namely in the form of Hollywood attention. The recently released blockbuster, The Kingdom, was shot on location in Abu Dhabi and a film school opened its doors this year to help educate budding local talent in association with the New York Film Academy. In addition to this the Abu Dhabi Film Fund is encouraging local talent through funding and the film festival is also raising the profile of the capital as a maturing filmmaking destination. The presence of a major Hollywood production firm, Warner Brothers Entertainment in conjunction with Aldar Properties, also confirms its growing film making status.

Yet despite all of the apparent positive attributes that Abu Dhabi has to offer I can't help but remain hesitant about what this means for local filmmakers following a conversation with one filmmaker from the region. While we both agreed that the film festival could only serve to promote Abu Dhabi and the rest of the region in a positive light for the film industry, the filmmaker noted that it would be some time before local talent would actually be used for producing films in the region. In his words, "Which producer is going to throw millions of dollars at someone with little or no background in Hollywood blockbusters?

"They want someone who has filmed successful productions - that goes for lighting and sound as much as directors and everyone else," he continued.

I agree with him. While the film fund will work to help a small number of local talent, Abu Dhabi and the rest of the region must also work hard to promoting local talent across the board. The festival and the new film school must work together in promoting local talent from lighting people to directors, and not just funds to back this new industry.

Abu Dhabi won't be rivalling the great Hollywood production houses any time soon but the festival does prove that the commitment to a national film industry is there, and I for one am looking forward to what this region will have to offer the film world.

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