Gulf nations drill for film

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The Independent Culture

Abu Dhabi's film industry has yet to be born, but the tiny emirate's prime spot at Cannes, overlooking luxury yachts bobbing on the sea, reveals a deep ambition to build a homegrown movie culture.

Like sister emirate Qatar, at Cannes for the very first time this year, the oil-rich Gulf states are on a quest to spot, discover and produce cinematic Arab storytelling talent.

"We've been making films since the 70s but we don't have an industry," Kellen Quinn, deputy director of the Abu Dhabi film festival, told AFP.

"We want to be serious producers of culture, not just buyers," added Marcelle Aleid, marketing chief for the emirate's film commission.

Abu Dhabi has hooked one of the best spots along the Cannes shoreline where pavilions representing scores of nations have set up for the duration of the 12-day festival, the world's biggest film event.

Their game is angling investors for both national film productions and festivals, or attracting big buck productions seeking sun, sea or desert locations for shoots.

Abu Dhabi, a minuscule emirate of 1.5 million people, for now can only offer prospective buyers a few locally-made short films and a handful of documentaries.

"Our challenge now is to produce a feature-length movie," said Quinn, pointing to the huge box office success in the region of a Dubai movie titled "City of Life", the first feature produced in the Gulf.

Now, a first-ever Abu Dhabi production is to be announced at Cannes.

Dubai for its part is not at Cannes this year, while Qatari officials jet in to drum up support for its fledgling industry and new film festival.

"We already have 50 screens for 1.2 million people and at the weekends the cinemas are full to bust," Fatma Al Remaihi, of the Doha Film Institute, told AFP.

"There is a hunger for cinema in the emirates," said Quinn, citing the Abu Dhabi filmfest, which has seen attendance swell from 15,000 in its first year to 30,000 at its last third edition.

Last year's festival featured 128 movies from 49 countries, including 72 features with a jury headed by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami.

To boost home-grown movies, the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, established only last year, is offering scholarships and training programmes, including a screen-writing contest with a 100,000-dollar prize scooped last year by Saudi woman director Haifa Al Mansoor.

"We've financed three documentaries and six short films this year," said Aleid.

In Qatar, where the government is pledging huge investments in cultural fields, the Doha Film Institute plays a similar role.

And Qatar too plans major new film announcements during the coming days at Cannes.

Both emirates hope to be able soon to offer residents films "other than Hollywood and Bollywood," that are set in their own cultures while integrating the religious sensitivities of the region.

"But in the last 10 years, things have become much more flexible," said Aleid.

"The Gulf is labelled a place where lots of money is spent on luxury," said Quinn. "We're trying to build the foundation for a sustainable film industry that'll exist through into the future."

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