Films and homemade videos are some of the most potent ways of spreading a people’s culture and national values. For most countries around the world, their movies influences have primarily come from the west, specifically, American movies. This has gone a long way to allow America to influence the cultures of most countries with their lifestyles.
The UAE hasn’t been immune to this influence even though such movies emanating from the west have had to undergo proper censorship so that aspects of movies that could be deemed to be culturally or religiously inimical to their ways and faith were exorcised from them before being allowed to air in cinemas around the country.
But since 2002 in particular, the UAE has begun to take steps to not just screen films of other cultures and places, it had also began to ensure that they are able to tell their own stories in cinemas, even if it is viewed within the Gulf region only. The major step towards this was the formation of Emirates Film Competition which was formed to influence a generation of Emirati filmmakers to explore the short film format.
Though the competition was initially merged with Abu Dhabi Film Festival, it would eventually be shut down along with the Gulf Film Festival paving way for the emergence of the Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) in 2004 and which continues to run till date. Held as an annual event for fourteen years; the festival was announced as a bi-annual in 2018 resulting in the postponement of the 15th edition to 2019.
In 2005, this project realized a milestone in 2005 when ‘The Dream’ became the first Emirati film to be distributed in cinemas across the UAE. Until then, the UAE had become the hub for South Asian films and television serials, with Bollywood and Lollywood movies being the main draw.
Another critical step that the UAE took to ensure the take-off of the local film industry was the establishment of a film studio – Dubai Studio City – which was built to encourage film making in the region. In addition, The Dubai Film and TV Commission was established in 2012 in line with Executive Council Decision as the sole authority to issue film shooting permits in Dubai.
With world-class infrastructure and a readiness to showcase Dubai and the UAE to the rest of the world; several films of American, Indian, and Chinese productions have since been partly or wholly shot in Dubai and other parts of the UAE. Some of the well-known ones include Mission Impossible 6 and Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol (American 2018 & 2010), The Killer (Indian, 2006), Boom (Indian, 2003), Star Trek Beyond (American, 2016), Kung Fu Yoga (Chinese, 2017), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (American, 2015), Switch (Chinese, 2013), DAM 999 (Hollywood-Indian collaboration, 2011) partly filmed in Fujairah, UAE.
Dubai has come a long way in the film industry since the first feature film, ‘Syriana’, a geopolitical thriller starring George Clooney, Matt Damon, Chris Cooper, and Jeffrey Wright was made in 2005. The film won George Clooney the best-supporting actor Oscar in 2006. This movie brought rapid growth and awareness to the potential of the Dubai film industry and spurned a whole new set of local filmmakers and directors into the industry.
Today, the film industry in Dubai is currently worth around 420million euros to the local economy as The Film and TV Commission continues to encourage the production of foreign films within the city. But it is not all about the big-budget movies only; Award-winning independent filmmaker like Faisal Hashmi has garnered international critical acclaim for his short films.
The changing face of Dubai’s film industry, with local filmmaking and video producing companies like the Film District Dubai bringing its expertise into the industry, is generating both excitement and enthusiasm as it starts to take center frame on the big screens across the Gulf States and even beyond. Like every other thing that Dubai has set its sights on, it would be foolish to bet against them not rivaling the major film powerhouses like Hollywood and Bollywood for center stage sooner than later.