Abu Dhabi aims to become the "cultural capital of the region" and is exploring a variety of ways to achieve this goal. The government has recently turned its attention to the film and entertainment industry to achieve its ambitions and to further diversify the economy.
A major breakthrough came when Warner Bros Entertainment made their first footprint in the emirate at the end of September. The production company partnered with the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) and real estate development firm Aldar Properties in a multi-billion dollar, multimedia deal.
The deal includes developing a theme park, hotel and multiplex cinemas as well as a $500m film production fund and a $500m videogame fund. Construction of the Warner Bros-licensed theme park is set to begin in 2009 and the first jointly owned multiplex cinemas will open the following year.
The film fund is designed to finance and produce big-budget films and video games to be sold internationally. The two companies will work together to make films in Arabic and create other local content. By bringing in foreign expertise the emirate hopes to benefit from the knowledge transfer provided by Warner and bring credibility to their productions.
Barry Meyers, chairman of Warner Brothers, said, "We're anxious not just to be exporters of American films, but to be partners and support local films."
The ADMC is the government arm involved in both of these agreements. Created in June of this year, it is commissioned to oversee all media-related activities in the emirate and expand its regional influence on the industry. Aside from the projects already announced with Warner, the new company is hoping to launch an English newspaper next year. Riyad Al Mubarak, chief executive of the ADMC, said Abu Dhabi wishes to become a modern media voice that is realistic, dispassionate and factual.
Building on its desire to become the film capital of the Middle East, Abu Dhabi will be hosting the first Middle East International Film Festival next week at the Emirates Palace hotel. Over 50 films, representing various nations, will be screened during the week. Gerhard Bosse, executive assistant manager of Emirates Palace, told OBG the festival is one more step in the right direction to put Abu Dhabi on the map and create awareness.
"The film festival complements the overall progression of developments here in Abu Dhabi and for developing the film industry," festival executive director, Nashwa Al Ruwaini, told media. "It really is the icing on the cake. You need the film festival to make all the other film-related projects that are happening here happen."
The festival will be the launching point for what is anticipated to become an annual conference, the Film Financing Circle (FFC), which will focus on fostering growth in the region's developing film industry and put Abu Dhabi at the forefront of this expansion. It will bring together international financiers and film executives in an attempt to create new filmmaking opportunities in the Middle East and to establish Abu Dhabi as a major filmmaking centre.
Another initiative of the FFC is the Abu Dhabi Film Fund. This will create a link between Europe, the US and the rest of the world to co-produce and finance films. The fund will consider projects in any budget range and will primarily focus on financing projects from the region. It is designed to be profitable and the returns will be used to encourage local Emirati talent in the form of grants and other financial support. The founders of the fund hope to attract the power and expertise of Hollywood to the emirate to help build interest in the film industry and talent in the local community.