The United Arab Emirates is giving out less-than-united messages when it comes to its attempts to attract the global film biz. While execs at Abu Dhabi’s inaugural Middle East Intl. Film Fest are busy unveiling ambitious plans to provide production coin for budding helmers from around the world, officials from governmental org the National Media Council have nixed plans for Ridley Scott’s “Body of Lies” to lens in Dubai because of the politically sensitive nature of the script.
Scott’s pic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, follows an ex-journalist-turned CIA agent who’s sent to Amman to track an Al Qaeda leader rumored to be planning attacks against America. Pic was set to shoot in Dubai toward the end of the year. “After receiving approval, it was later rejected as Dubai does not want to do any scripts that are of a political nature,” says Tim Smythe, CEO of Filmworks, the Dubai-based shingle that was repping the production for Warners in the region. Mideast-set portions of the film will likely all be shot in Morocco now.
The decision has already meant that two other Dubai-set shoots, a big-budget studio pic as well as a smaller budget East European feature, have subsequently pulled out of filming there. Variety understands that the decision to nix the Scott project was based on U.A.E authorities’ reluctance to have Dubai associated with film subjects related to terrorism, Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism.
“It’s unfortunate and limits the options of films to come to Dubai to help develop the industry as to date 85% of all films we have been approached about have some form of political nature,” says Smythe. “Hopefully with time, this policy will become more relaxed and we can continue to build the industry.”
In Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, preparations are in full swing to make the Middle East Intl. Film Fest a destination for emerging helmers from around the world. Fest, set to unspool Oct. 12-17 in the oil-rich emirate, will award first-time or sophomore filmmakers substantial prizes for best feature, docu and short.
The Black Pearl awards will offer substantial coin to helmers from any country to help make their next project. “Whether the next project is $1 million or $10 million or more, we’re committing to helping get the project made. It’s going to be the biggest prize of its kind that I’ve ever seen,” says fest director Jon Fitzgerald. Helmers will also get the opportunity to pitch for funding at a finance conference, with funding for winning projects.