The Curtain Is Rising on the UAE’s Film Industry.
The UAE is set to play a starring role in the global film industry, with several recent developments propelling it into the spotlight. Until recently, the UAE was best known for its short films, the makers of which were dubbed ‘Emerging Emiratis’. This included notable classics such as 100 Miles, a thriller comedy by Mustafa Abbas which won ‘Best Non-Documentary’ at the 2007 Emirates Film Competition, and Xero Error , the UAE’s computer generated science fiction film created and directed by Ashraf Ghori.
Thanks to the support of the governments of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s film industry is going from strength to strength. For over a decade, Dubai and Abu Dhabi hosted their own annual film festivals. The festivals served as an influential platform for Arab filmmakers and talent at an international level, by spearheading the cinema movement in the region.
This paved the way for feature-length films, the first of which, Al-Hilm (The Dream) by Nawaf Al-Janahi, was released in 2005. In 2008 Emirati director, Majid Abdulrazak produced a break-through film version of Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands , which was selffunded and employed actors from the UAE and Oman in most of the major roles. The film has since been released on DVD by Viva Entertainment.
The Emirati film industry first claimed the world’s attention with City of Life , directed and produced by Ali F. Mostafa. Mostafa’s debut film received wide acclaim for its balanced portrayal of Dubai. Mostafa was named ‘Best Emirati Filmmaker’ in the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) and won the ‘Young Filmmaker of the Year’ award at the Digital Studio Awards 2010.
According to data produced by Italia Film International, the movie ranked second in the local box office and successfully made over AED 500,000.
The UAE’s striking scenery has also attracted several major international and regional productions to shoot in the Emirate over the past two years.
This has brought large-scale investment, enhanced the film industry’s infrastructure and created significant opportunities for local talent. These projects include Universal Pictures’ Fast and Furious 7 and Disney’s Star Wars: Episode VII, as well as regional productions Al Ikhwa, Iftah Ya SimSim and ET Bil Arabi.
In April last year, the first Emirati films became available to download on iTunes. Ali Mostafa’s From A to B , along with Film Festival favourite, Sea Shadow and box-office smash, Djinn were among the first films to be available for download from the Apple app store.The releases were a breakthrough in the UAE film community,and a move towards increasing the awareness and accessibility of films from the region.
From A to B , co-produced by twofour54 and Image Nation, topped the iTunes charts across the Middle East and is now set to be released theatrically in the UK and Italy.
In May 2015, it was announced that Abu Dhabi would be taking an exciting new direction with its film industry. The Media Zone Authority-Abu Dhabi decided it needed a new focus to reflect the rapid growth in the region. In a move that marked a new phase in Abu Dhabi’s maturing film industry, it was announced that the Abu Dhabi Film Festival would be brought to a close to make way for future initiatives which will support local and Arab filmmakers and attract more film productions to Abu Dhabi.
The Media Zone Authority is continuing its efforts in supporting Emirati and Arab filmmakers through the SANAD Fund, which provides financial support for film projects during their development and post-production stages. The Fund enables filmmakers to develop and complete feature narrative or documentary films.
Noura Al Kaabi, CEO of the Media Zone Authority, said, “Over the last few years we have built a strong foundation for a self-sustaining film and television industry.
It is now the right time to deepen our commitment and further develop programmes to take the local industry to the next level.”
Training and development programmes continue to expand for Emirati and regional filmmakers. Now in its fourth year, Arab Film Studio includes both documentary and narrative programmes. There is also a new programme for Emirati high school students launched at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts this year.
Emirati films are gaining wider acclaim. Zinzana , directed by Emirati filmmaker, Majid Al Ansari, had its world premiere at leading genre festival, ‘Fantastic Fest’ in Texas and screened at the prestigious BFI London Film Festival to rave reviews. Critics called the film a ‘world-class’ production and Ansari the ‘Tarantino of the Middle East’.
With accolades piling up and more home-grown talent coming to the fore, the Emirati film industry is emerging as a hub for world class cinema.
Notable Emirati Feature Films
Al-Hilm (The Dream) (2005) Nawaf Al-Janahi
Tarab Fashion (2006) Mohamed Daham
Haneen (2006) Mohammad Al-Traifi
Arabian Sands (2008) Majid Abdulrazak
Al Dayra (The Circle) (2009) Nawaf Al-Janahi
Henna (2009) Saleh Karama
City of Life (2009) Ali F. Mostafa
Sea Shadow (2011) Nawaf Al-Janahi
A to B (2013) Ali F. Mostafa
Three (2013) Nayla Al Khaja
Banat Fahma (2013) Abdulla Al Kaabi