Photos: Panel - Making Movies in Abu Dhabi
ADFF panel tackles the topic of growing local film
With the UAE's film industry blossoming more and more each year,
it's increasingly common to hear talk of encouraging local
filmmakers and enabling local film productions. Yet building the
infrastructure that will support a truly local industry is a
process that takes time. A feature like Nawaf Al-Janahi's Sea Shadow - written and directed by an Emirati and
produced entirely in the UAE - is still considered newsworthy. On
Friday, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival hosted a panel, entitled simply
Making Movies in Abu Dhabi, that directly addressed those
The panelists were Mohammed Al Otaiba, head of ImageNation Abu
Dhabi; David Shepheard, director of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission;
Wayne Borg, deputy CEO of twofour54; and Marie-Pierre Macia,
director of ADFF's SANAD development and post-production fund. The
panel was moderated by Variety international correspondent
Diana Lodderhose. The function room at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
where the panel took place was packed and the question-and-answer
session with the audience was a spirited one, indicating the
groundswell of interest in film production in the Emirates.
Each panelist was representing one of the key organizations
established by the government in an effort to spur the growth of
the film industry in Abu Dhabi. It's an endeavor that has seen
fruitful results in a short span of time. ImageNation has become a
powerful player in the international film business, with major
titles on its roster like the hit Contagion and the upcoming The Double (world premiering at the Festival
ImageNation is also behind Sea Shadow. Al-Janahi's
film, screening in ADFF's New Horizons Competition, is the most
prominent Emirati feature film to date, and the first on a slate of
six Emirati productions planned by the company. Al Otaiba pointed
to the film as an example of how a local production happened
organically, from a short screenplay by Al-Janahi that received
support from the Emirates Foundation, to a feature that was picked
up by Al Otaiba's company.
Among the topics addressed by the panelists were the training
and supporting of student filmmakers, the need to develop a skilled
acting force in the Emirates and what kinds of branding and
commercialization it will take to make the creative output of the
One idea that resonated through a number of questions from the
attendees was that of co-production and collaboration between
established filmmaking centers (especially in Europe) and local
film producers. One attendee pointed out that the film world is
looking for stories from the Arab world more than ever in the wake
of the Arab Spring, and that the UAE is an obvious place to get
those stories produced. Macia addressed those questions by
reminding the panel that the Festival's SANAD fund for Arab
filmmakers had indeed kick-started this process of international
collaborations involving the Emirates, saying, "We have concrete
results from SANAD." These include Leila Kilani's On the Edge, which premiered at Cannes and swept the
major prizes at the Taormina Film Festival earlier this year, and
In My Mother's Arms, directed by Mohamed and Atia
Jabarah Al Daradji, which premiered at last month's Toronto
International Film Festival.
Another question that came up more than once was what the local
film initiatives are doing to encourage more independent filmmaking
in the spirit of Mahmoud Kaabour, the Abu Dhabi-based filmmaker
whose award-winning documentary Grandma, A Thousand Times
(2010) was supported by twofour54. Shepheard stated that working
with low-budget filmmakers is part of ADFC's mission statement, and
that the idea is to make sure that there are "100 Mahmoud Kaabours"
in Abu Dhabi.
Macia was insistent that the panel stay focused on the concrete
details of how the companies are supporting local filmmakers. Borg
touched on the various facilities and cash grants that twofour54
provides. He said that the idea is to build a legacy here that will
draw not only international productions, but the independent talent
that keeps any industry vital. "At the heart of everything we do is
making sure the talent have a base to operate from."
Al Otaiba repeatedly encouraged attendees to contact his company
and the others, stay vocal and become aware of the resources and
opportunities that are available, and pledged that these
organizations will all work together to make sure projects get off
the ground. "I understand the struggle that local filmmakers face,"
Al Otaiba, who is also a screenwriter, said.
Borg summarized the goals of all present when he asked himself,
"What is success for twofour54? Seeing content from this region
exported all around the world."
ADFF's free panels continue as part of the
Special Events program throughout the Festival.