Dubai and Abu Dhabi are locked in a contest of anything you can do, we can do better — a competition that extends to film festivals, film production and even the luring of Hollywood filmmakers.
Abu Dhabi officials, including royal family member Sheik Sultan bin Tahnoon al Nahyan, are here to announce the creation of an international film festival that will run in the second half of October. The week-long fest will be a rival to existing Dubai International Film Festival, set to unspool its fourth edition Dec. 9-16. Sheik Sultan is also chairman of the Abu Dhabi Culture and Heritage Authority.
Abu Dhabi crown prince Sheik Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (not to confused with Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum) has given his blessing to the new fest.
Dubai and Abu Dhabi are both part of the United Arab Emirates; the former has forged a reputation as a glamorous, tourist-friendly haven with exclusive hotels and indoor ski slopes, while the latter has far greater natural resources and wealth.
In other words, Dubai may generate the ink, but Abu Dhabi has the oil.
By creating a film commission, Abu Dhabi is challenging Dubai’s attempts to establish itself as a regional filmmaking hub. Dubai Studio City, intended as a one-stop-shop for all stages of production, is set to open its first soundstages in December.
The rival emirates are also competing on attracting Hollywood productions to lense there. Dubai has the distinction of attracting the first Hollywood production to shoot in the UAE — “Syriana” in 2005 — but Abu Dhabi quickly followed with “The Kingdom,” which was shot in 2006.
Dubai has inked separate deals with Marvel, Universal and Nickelodeon to build theme parks there, while Abu Dhabi ponied up $200 million to build the world’s largest Guggenheim museum . The country reportedly produced a further $700 million license fee to build a Louvre branch in the desert, with access to the Paris museum’s collections.
Speedy development of Abu Dhabi fest seems to have taken some officials in both emirates by surprise. Exact details of what was being announced, and when, appeared to still be up for grabs as of Thursday evening.
As for those in Dubai, privately raised eyebrows were masked by public statements of support.
“It’s good for both of us to compete and I wish them luck,” said DIFF chairman Abdulhamid Juma. “It’s fine as long as it enhances Arab film.”
One of the Abu Dhabi reps set to announce the initiatives was TV presenter Nashwa al Ruweini. Her self-titled show “Nashwa” airs, naturally enough, on Dubai TV.