x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Imax pictures rapid growth across Middle East

Canada's Imax Corporation is projecting big growth in big-screen cinemas in the Middle East, with talks under way to open more in the region.

Edwynn Olaes, a projectionist at Meydan Imax Theatre, prepares the reel of 70mm film for Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, which weighs 245kg. Full story on b5 Razan Alzayani / The National
Edwynn Olaes, a projectionist at Meydan Imax Theatre, prepares the reel of 70mm film for Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, which weighs 245kg. Full story on b5 Razan Alzayani / The National

Canada's Imax Corporation is projecting big growth in big-screen cinemas in the Middle East, with talks under way to open more in the region.

Imax movies are shot using 70 mm film - twice as wide as that used in ordinary cameras - and can be projected on to especially large screens. Lengthy sections of the new Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight Rises were made using the format.

Globally, more than 660 theatres have Imax screens but these include just 11 in the Middle East - far fewer than in North America, Europe or China.

Andrew Cripps, the executive vice president of the Imax Corporation, said talks were under way with theatres to open more big screens here.

"Imax sees an increasing opportunity in the Middle East region over the next several years, particularly in areas such as the UAE, Egypt and Morocco," he said.

"We are evaluating opportunities in most major markets in the region ... we are in talks and have received inquiries from a number of operators in areas such as Dubai, Jordan, Kuwait and Iraq," he added.

The UAE, Kuwait, Turkey and Israel each have two Imax theatres, while there are single screens in Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Two more Imax cinemas are set to open in Egypt, along with another in Israel and one in Azerbaijan, the Canadian company said.

Mr Cripps attributed the opportunity in the Middle East to a higher disposable income and the development of shopping malls and entertainment complexes.

"The Middle East ... has a rapidly growing film market with a diverse audience and demographic," he said. "The Imax theatres in the GCC countries have had a tremendous year and are up dramatically year over year ... we believe our business is very much in the growth mode at the moment in this region."

The Meydan Imax Theatre in Dubai, which opened this year, is the UAE's second big-screen cinema.

Goulam Raza Amarsy, the chief executive of the Dubai film theatre, acknowledged Imax "hasn't really taken off" in the Middle East and India yet.

But he said there was great potential in those markets.

"In the Indian subcontinent there are talks now about using the Imax camera to do Bollywood films," said Mr Amarsy.

He said he was negotiating with the Dubai Ministry of Education to approve the cinema for school visits. "We would like to set a challenge whereby every school child in Dubai comes to the Meydan Imax at least once in this school year."

Sections of the movie Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, which was partly shot in Dubai, were filmed in Imax format.

Mr Amarsy said he was looking for investors to back a US$10 million (Dh36.7m) 3D Imax film about Dubai, which - if it gets made - he said would be the first entire film to be shot in the format in the UAE.

Cinema revenues are on the rise in the UAE, where the box office drew in Dh231m in the first six months of this year.

That compares with Dh212m takings during the same period last year, according to figures by Empire International Gulf.

Mr Cripps said the overall movie theatre sector was growing in the Middle East.

"The cinema market is maturing and is very diverse, with Arabic films and Bollywood films playing a major role in the box office takings along with Hollywood blockbusters," he said.

bflanagan@thenational.ae