x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Hooray for Dollywood in Cannes

Doha Film Institute could be the start of a Gulf-wide business.

There is Hollywood, Bollywood and even, thanks to a boom in Nigeria's film industry, Nollywood. Now it seems Dollywood is on the cards, thanks to the high-profile movie industry initiatives coming from the small Gulf city of Doha. This week's star-studded launch of the Doha Film Institute (DFI) at the Cannes International Film Festival, which was attended by the Oscar-winning US director Martin Scorsese among others, was possibly one of the most lavish events at the annual film festival.

The DFI, which is backed by the Qatar Investment Authority, brings the state's various film initiatives under one banner, including film finance and production. But will that other potential Dollywood - Dubai - object? Probably not, say industry executives, who claim the emergence of Doha as a film production centre will help boost the entire region's nascent movie industry, rather than compete with the similar ambitions held by Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

The UAE certainly has strong ambitions in film. The Abu Dhabi Film Festival launched Sanad, a US$500,000 (Dh1.83 million) film fund, at Cannes. And the Dubai Film Connection, the co-production arm of the Dubai International Film Festival, recently announced a $120,000 fund. But Tim Smythe, the chief executive of the Dubai production house Filmworks, which brought big-budget Hollywood films such as The Kingdom and Syriana to shoot in the UAE, says this does not mark an increased competitive threat within the industry.

"Doha will complement other Gulf film centres," Mr Smythe said. "Given the film industry in the region is so small, it will be a regional industry - I don't see it belonging to one city. Over the next two years you're going to see the region's film industry develop into a real industry." But a possible setback to all of this is the Arab states' reluctance to offer government incentives, which may be deterring international directors from filming in the region.

"It might feel that there's a lot of film financing in the Gulf but it's not somewhere for the international film industry to come and finance projects," Mr Smythe said. "A lot of the focus is on local developments. The most important thing for the region is to attract international work. To do that you need to launch a rebate system." David Shepheard, the director of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, said while there was some competition between the Gulf states' film industries, the establishment of the DFI could "help build a local talent base".

Nicolas Forzy, an independent film and TV producer based in the UAE, said the DFI "could help to grow all the markets in the region". "Working together is key - it's not about being in competition," Mr Forzy said. "Someone working on a project in Doha may end up working in Abu Dhabi the following year." bflanagan@thenational.ae