The Emirati of Dubai has allowed us to have a glimpse of what is possible in films shot in Dubai. From Mission Impossible to Syriana; we have been awed at the natural and man-made wonders that are the attributes of the city of Dubai.
But those films and the few others that have been shot within the Emirati have been the productions of Western film production companies, rather than indigenous Dubai projects leading some to wonder if Dubai has a film industry of its own.
So, does Dubai have a film industry of its own?
One thing is certain if there is a film industry in Dubai, it is not very visible. What we see is a situation where what Dubai has to offer in film locations is most an attraction for foreign film production companies with little or nothing coming in the way of local content.
For many years now, the authorities of Dubai have worked towards having a local film industry like Bollywood, Hollywood, Nollywood, amongst others by trying to stimulate its growth with tax incentives, appropriate legislation, and a film festival of international repute.
For instance, Paris Hilton's producers had access to state-of-the-art studios and a government anxious to bring a touch of Hollywood glamour to the Middle East when she came here in June and July to audition female friends for her show "My New BFF."
But, the challenge for the development of the local film industry has been greatly weighted down by the order for its productions to comply with Islamic customs in the region. As in the case of Hilton's proposed reality show; several elements of reality television were forbidden: no drinking, profanity, or public shows of affection. The filmmakers considered filming a sequence at a water park but decided against it because the candidates would be dressed in religiously suitable swimwear.
Dubai, its rival Abu Dhabi, and other Persian Gulf towns face significant challenges as they attempt to diversify their economy by encouraging creativity and establishing themselves as entertainment hubs. One of the most significant obstacles is that they are governed by Islamic law. This is not the case in Hollywood.
So far, oil-rich countries have proven to be better able to pay for high-end media productions and pricey film sets; but that seems to be all that they have been able to achieve as they have found it increasingly difficult to translate such investments and enthusiasm into the proper film industry as those of India or even South Korea as economic attempts find a brick-wall in traditional values and restrictions.
Other roadblocks are logistical in nature. For example, the country's lack of a healthy freelance market to fund productions is due to local regulations for full-time work permits. “A critical ingredient for expanding the film business is access to talent,” said Jamal al-Sharif, executive director of Dubai Studio City, which was formed in 2005 to encourage the regional film industry.
Despite the disadvantages, the region's goals to host world-class centers for invention and production cannot be dismissed, in part due to the large sums of money its proponents are willing to spend.
The Dubai Studio City facilities have been used in 26 feature films, largely from the Gulf region and Bollywood, with a few Western projects, notably "Syriana" and "The Kingdom" partially shot in the emirates.
But shooting in the Emirati is not quite the same thing as having a local film industry that is often a tool for providing the drive for nationalistic fervor, religious and cultural bind, and a virtual amorphous ambassador to the people beyond the boundaries of its national territory.
There is the need for is to recognize that it may take a while for the Dubai entertainment industry to actually create a footprint at the global level in the form of a film industry compared to others; but one can actually express confidence in the ability of the Dubai authorities to bring Dubai film culture to our screens, sooner than later.