Interview: Noura Al Kaabi

To what extent is financing readily available for startups in new media given the reluctance of many banks to lend to such initiatives?

NOURA AL KAABI: Abu Dhabi is currently experiencing a surge of new digital startups, including games, channels and productions that can help position the city favourably as venture capital continues to expand and grow in importance.

The aim now should be to examine ways to support startups from the very beginning. Many startups are actually at an advantage due to the under-representation that can be seen in this field. This can, for instance, result in a local and an international firm becoming jointly involved in a project working to combine local culture with international knowledge and expertise. Our previous successes with rebates, as well as our ongoing, long-term investment in equipment, writers and distributors, have demonstrated Abu Dhabi’s prominence as a regional centre.

Thanks to the interest that exists in these areas, if the requisite talent is out there, the funding should also exist. Indeed, there are already many more funding opportunities compared to just a few years ago. From the level of foreign investment in Abu Dhabi to the Flat6Labs, things are growing at a promising rate. Provided that we maintain the high standards that have already been set, further investment will follow naturally. The priority for us will be to plant the seed and help it grow by focusing on what has already got us this far, while building on that for the future.

How is a strategy being developed to attract more international television and film productions to the emirate?

AL KAABI: We are looking into areas where we are aware of a very rapid growth in film-making. Bollywood is one of the largest and fastest-growing film industries in the world, and the links between India and Abu Dhabi when it comes to film have expanded in recent years. Indeed, we have taken significant steps to foster close relationships with key stakeholders in the Indian film community. Considering Abu Dhabi’s proximity to India – only three hours away by plane – we expect more productions to come here from India.

South Korea is also enthusiastic about using Abu Dhabi as a film production centre. South Korea’s domestic films and dramas are increasing both in quantity and in production quality, and their government follows a policy of exporting Korean culture internationally through media. The country has already established the Korean Cultural Centre in twofour54, and we have started collaborating on projects. We will also continue to ride the momentum from having attracted blockbuster franchises such as Star Wars and The Fast and the Furious, to draw in new major international productions. Over time, this will allow the industry to expand production facilities and capacity, which will enable Abu Dhabi to become a permanent destination for TV and film productions and further train Emiratis.

In what ways have resources been focused on providing better support for local film-makers?

AL KAABI: We had to make the difficult decision to cancel the Abu Dhabi Film Festival based on our evaluation of how resources can best be allocated. Fortunately, other festivals in the UAE are able to showcase the fantastic local talent we have.

We are already working to provide tangible support for local film-makers. For example, the Sanad Fund pools resources together and can support a variety of films featured at different festivals not only within the UAE but all around the world. At the same time, we will be able to retain local flavour, as the films are co-produced domestically with heavy investment from local and international sources, such as the Abu Dhabi-based firm Image Nation.