x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Films lack screens to spur output

The lack of cinemas is the biggest hurdle facing the development of the Middle East and North Africa's film industry, regional film experts say.

The lack of cinemas is the biggest hurdle facing the development of the Middle East and North Africa's film industry, regional film experts say. Despite its substantial population of more than 300 million people, the region has only 800 cinema screens, which curtails the ability of film producers to recoup their investment in local movies.

"The weakness of the Arab world is that there are no cinemas, for either religious or economic reasons," said Tarak Ben Ammar, the chairman of Quinta Communications. He pointed to the example of Algeria, which once had 600 cinemas but now has almost none as a result of a conservative leadership. Gabriel Khoury, a producer with Misr International Films in Egypt, said filmmakers had nowhere to distribute their films in the region outside of Egypt, Jordan, the UAE and Kuwait.

"This is because of a lack of infrastructure," he said, adding that the governments in countries looking to develop a film industry should begin by encouraging the building of multiplexes. In particular, he called the low number of multiplexes in North Africa "inconceivable". Frederic Sichler, the chairman of Amana Creative, which was set up to develop content and media activities between the West and the Middle East, said the only way that film budgets in the region could grow from the US$1 million (Dh3.6m) range to the $20m mark, equivalent to a medium-budget independent comedy in the US, was if there was a massive increase in the number of cinemas.

Shivani Pandya, the managing director of the Dubai International Film Festival, said box-office revenues in the Middle East remained stuck at the relatively low range of $74m to $78m a year because of the lack of distribution options for films. While Egypt had 400 cinema screens and the UAE 200, "in all other countries, you have double digits", she said. "If you are investing, the maximum you can make back is $7m to $8m," she said.

The lack of infrastructure, combined with a lack of government subsidies for film production, led Tim Smythe, the chief executive of Filmworks, to conclude that, despite the blooming of film festivals and film investment conferences in the Gulf over the past few years, commercially "nothing has moved forward in that time". @Email:khagey@thenational.ae