x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hollywood says hooray for Abu Dhabi blockbusters

A $160 million box-office haul for two films co-produced by Abu Dhabi's film fund is set to boost the UAE's fledgling movie industry, say executives.

Anna Jacoby-Heron and Matt Damon are shown in a scene from the film
Anna Jacoby-Heron and Matt Damon are shown in a scene from the film "Contagion". AP Photo / Warner Bros Pictures, Claudette Barius

Abu Dhabi is riding high in Hollywood with two films co-produced by Image Nation, a film fund based in the capital, which have secured the top two slots at the US box office.

A US$160 million plus (Dh587.6m) box-office haul for both Contagion, a thriller starring Matt Damon, and The Help, a tale of the hardships faced by African-American maids during the 1960s, is a major boost for the UAE's fledgling film industry.

Together, the films have grossed $162m in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo, a film website. The Help, which was released last month, had a production budget of just $25m, while the budget for Contagion was $60m, according to the website.

That is good news for Image Nation, which co-produced the two films through its partnership with the American production company Participant Media.

"It has exceeded expectations," said Michael Garin, the chief executive of Image Nation. "No film has been number one for as long as The Help has since the late 1990s."

Image Nation is part of Abu Dhabi Media, which also owns and publishes The National.

Mr Garin said international productions were "critical" to the development of Arabic films.

"We are able to provide the opportunities for young Emirati film-makers to learn their craft. For me, this is the main benefit of these international partnerships," he said.

"We want to be part of the global media industry. And without our participation in the global industry, our expectations for our young film-makers would be severely limited."

Tim Smythe, the chief executive of the Dubai production house Filmworks, which facilitated the shooting of Mission: Impossible in the emirate, said the $160m box-office haul was high.

"It's very good compared to other box-office openings, considering that neither film was produced as a blockbuster," he said.

"Films like Contagion and The Help are generally reliant on how well they were received," he added.

"They don't have the same marketing drive put behind them."

The success at the US box office for the two films was encouraging for the UAE's fledgling film industry, Mr Smythe said.

"I don't see any benefit directly from the success of these two films. But it does bode well. Successes like this reflect well on Image Nation, which could potentially encourage other international films to come and be partly produced in the UAE," he said.

Image Nation will release its first locally produced film, Sea Shadow,this year, followed by the release of the thriller Djinn early next year.

Forthcoming international releases in which Image Nation is involved include The Double, which stars Richard Gere, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, which features Nicolas Cage.

The Double and the Ghost Rider sequel are already in profit - despite not yet having been released, Mr Garin said.

"The milestone for these pictures is that they have basically reached the position of break-even months before theatrical release," he said, citing film-financing mechanisms such as production subsidies and pre-sales.

Several Image Nation films will be premiered at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which runs from October 13 to 22.

"Contagion, along with Sea Shadow and The Double will be screened at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival next month, the latter two as world premieres," said Peter Scarlet, the executive director of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

bflanagan@thenational.ae