ABU DHABI // With Islamophobia on the rise, it is the responsibility of regional filmmakers to show the world that "Arab is not a dirty word".
That was the message of Tarak Ben Ammar, the president of integrated media empire Quinta Communications, speaking yesterday at the Circle Conference, a three-day event run by Abu Dhabi Film Commission (ADFC) to promote Arab culture and film. The nephew of independent Tunisia's first president, Mr Ammar said that dialogue between regional communities was more vital than ever.
Mr Ammar was the man behind director George Lucas's decision to shoot parts of the Star Wars movies in Tunisia and Steven Spielberg's choice to do the same with Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Back then, the name of the game was oil, gas and defence - but never culture. Almost 30 years since the start of his involvement in the industry, he questions whether the region has shifted its focus.
"If we can just give 0.1 per cent of the expenditure committed to armaments to the field of culture, we will be able to sustain the Arab film industry for years to come," he said. "Your legacy cannot just be glittering buildings. Do not think because you are blessed with resources things should be handed to you on a plate. We have to work hard to create a New Golden Age and that is what history will remember."
Next week, shooting will begin in Tunisia on his new US$55million (Dh202m) movie Black Gold by filmmaker Jacques Annaud, which features Hollywood actor Antonio Banderas and Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto. The film will be distributed by Warner Bros and Universal Pictures.
"This is an unprecedented project about an Arab, produced by an Arab and filmed in the Arab world. This is the real spirit of collaboration between East and West, he said. Princess Rym Ali, the founder of the Royal Film Commission Jordan and sister-in-law of King Abdullah II, said her country welcomes joint production.
"Jordan worked hard to achieve growing success," she said. "The region has plenty of talent and we need the help of our governments, so regional markets can work together."
Jordan was the location for this year's Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker.
"We picked Jordan because we wanted to be faithful to the Middle Eastern look and feel," said Nicolas Chartier, the president of Voltage Pictures and producer of The Hurt Locker.
"We had 18 nationalities working on the movie - the safety and beauty Jordan provided was invaluable." David Shepheard, the director of ADFC, described the Circle Conference as an important platform where established industry professionals can encourage emerging talents and students through various discussions.
The conference will continue today and tomorrow at InterContinental hotel in Abu Dhabi.