Emirate trying to establish itself as film hub

Abu Dhabi is continuing with its efforts to try to establish itself as the Arab world’s top location for all things film related. Officials from the oil-rich emirate, which dwarfs neighboring Dubai in terms of coin if not media profile, inked a deal with the New York Film Academy on June 27 to establish a film academy in Abu Dhabi.

The film school will open in January 2008 with the same curriculum as at other locations of the privately run school. The school will be open to students from across the Arab world, as well as expats living in Abu Dhabi, with discussions under way for scholarships and special rates to be offered to local Emirati and Arab students to help jumpstart their film education.

“It’s very important for people from the Arab world, who did not previously have this opportunity, to gain creative know-how,” says Sameh Masry of the government’s Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage. “Young people need to be given back possession of their everyday life, with everything going on in the region. Someone needs to give hope to the new generation.”

The move comes in the wake of the announcement of the inaugural Abu Dhabi-based Middle East Film Fest, set to unspool Oct. 12-17, as well as the creation of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission and a multimillion dollar film fund.

While Abu Dhabi has emerged on the film industry scene relatively late, it seems some execs are already taking notice. “The Lord of the Rings” producer Barrie Osborne has visited Abu Dhabi three times in recent months to look at possible locations for Paulo Coelho adaptation “The Alchemist,” as well as potential coin. The producer was granted a pow-wow with Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (not to be confused with Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum) who gave his personal blessing to the big budget project.

Robert Redford also journeyed to Abu Dhabi in June to meet with students at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed university as well as government officials to discuss potential co-operation between Sundance and Abu Dhabi.

“These are all pieces of the puzzle,” Masry says. “The film festival, fund and commission are all mechanisms to develop a filmmaking capacity in Abu Dhabi and the region as a whole.”

However, confusion exists over the timing of the opening night of Abu Dhabi’s film fest, which is perilously close to the holy month of Ramadan, generally a time of fasting and abstinence, not characteristics usually associated with glitzy fest preems. A film fest official confirmed, however, that the dates would not be moved, even if they did coincide with the final days of Ramadan.

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