UAE Fest-a-Palooza
Dubai is getting a double whammy of movie shindigs and boosting its status as the Gulf region’s main film industry hub. The second annual two-day Middle East Film & Comic Convention wrapped April 6 at Dubai’s Marine Club with Hollywood thesps Sean Astin and Manu Bennett in tow. And the Gulf Film Festival kicked off April 11 with 78 world preems and the launch of its Gulf Film Mart in Dubai’s Festival City venue. The opener for the sixth GFF edition was Haifaa Al-Mansour’s “Wadjda,” the first pic ever shot in Saudi Arabia, which Sony Pictures Classics will be releasing Stateside. GFF wraps April 17.

(From the pages of the April 16 issue of Variety.)


Musical Combos Go Global
The 1970s popularized duets of two stars (“You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” et al.), which more recently involved cross-genre duets (e.g., country-western and rap). Now they’re getting more international. Bollywood actress-singer Priyanka Chopra has teamed with U.S. rapper Pitbull for the single “Exotic.” This follows her 2012 collaboration with Yank will.i.am on “In My City,” which went triple platinum in India. Chopra’s music career is managed by Troy Carter, who also manages Lady Gaga.


Selling Ice to Eskimos
Japanese toon producer Studio Ghibli (“Ponyo”), which has set the gold standard for 2D animation worldwide, has acquired Spanish toon “Wrinkles,” a senior citizen buddy movie, for distribution in Japan. Served by its own robust animation production, Japan rarely acquires foreign indie toons. A 2D movie and upcoming GKids U.S. release, “Wrinkles” tackles a subject nobody can ignore: old age, said Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata.


Times of India salutes “Barfi!”
The Anurag Basu-helmed “Barfi!” India’s Oscar entry last year, swept the major categories of the first Times of India film awards that took place in Vancouver on April 6. “Barfi!” took home best film, director, actor (Ranbir Kapoor), actress (Priyanka Chopra), female debut actor (Ileana D’Cruz) cinematography (S Ravi Varman), costume design (Aki Narula and Shafalina), production design (Rajat Podar) and score (Pritam Chakraborty). “Kahaani” won screenplay (Sujoy Ghosh) and editing (Namrata Rao).


Laughing at the 1%
Warner Bros.-distributed comedy “Nosotros los Nobles” has touched a national nerve. Set in Mexico’s gaping income gap, Gaz Alazraki’s directorial debut concerns a magnate who feigns ruin to force his kids into the worst reality check imaginable: jobs. Since its March 28 bow, “Nobles” ran up $8.4 million in Mexico in its first 11 days, one of the 10 highest-grossing Mexican films ever. A 16% uptick suggests it has legs.


Digital Firms Offer Int’l Fare
At Mip TV last week, Swedish cloudbased TV service Magine unveiled plans to offer access to live, catch-up and on-demand programming from various local and international nets. Subscribers will get shows across multiple devices for a monthly fee of approximately $11.50. Among the offerings are Swedish channels SVT and TV4; National Geographic, CNN Intl., BBC World News and Cartoon Network. Magine touted that it will generate extra revenue for broadcasters from the networks’ library titles and will widen their shows’ reach. The service will roll out in Spain and Germany this summer and is expected to hit the U.K. in 2014.


Trans-Global, Trans-Media
Helmer Simon Pummell has commenced principal photography in London and Dublin for thriller “Brand New-U.” The pic is touted as a transmedia project encompassing feature film, urban projection, geo-specific augmented reality and online media. The U.K.-Ireland-Netherlands co-production is financed by the BFI Film Fund, the Irish Film Board, the Netherlands Film Fund and Finite Films. The Match Factory will handle international sales.


Pecs, drugs and rock & roll
The ripped Ricardo Abarca is toplining genre-mixer “Cumbia Ninja,” Fox Intl. Channels Latin America’s latest production, now shooting at Fox Telecolombia studios in Bogota. The 13-seg skein turns on a cumbia pop group which, with a ninja friend, take on its district’s local druglords. It’s a genre cocktail with a Latin American mix: Colombian Felipe Martinez helms; Argentina’s Brenda Asnicar plays opposite Mexico’s Abarca.


A&E Taps Into Pay-TV Boom
A&E Networks is setting up offices in Brazil. Little wonder. Still escalating, Brazilian pay TV ad revs stood at $4.0 billion in 2012, according to an Idope report published by Produ.com. Brazil easily surpasses other South American feevee ad markets (Argentina’s at $1.35 billion, Colombia’s at $1.4 billion). Meanwhile, A&E unveiled a strategic partnership with Gallic paybox Canal Plus Group, plus the launch of H2 and Lifetime channels in the U.K. and Asia.


Data on Alt Cinema
For the first time, data has been compiled on event cinema (or alternative content), such as transmission to multiplexes of stage shows, operas, etc. Event Cinema Assn. and IHS Screen Digest have compiled stats from seven European markets. ECA chair Melissa Keeping said the data will correct many myths about the topic. The most successful event was a live broadcast of French comedienne Florence Foresti, which earned $1.4 million from a single perf. The complete report will be unveiled at CinemaCon in Vegas.

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U.S. Strong in BAFTA TV Noms Scandi crime drama “The Bridge,” Showtime’s “Homeland” and two HBO shows, “Game of Thrones” and “Girls,” will vie in the international category at BAFTA’s May 12 British Academy Television Awards. Unlike the org’s film and games awards, the TV kudos focus primarily on U.K. work. However, co-productions scored well, including BBC/HBO TV movie “The Girl”; and BBC mini “The Hollow Crown,” co-produced by NBCUniversal Television, Sam Mendes’ Neal Street Prods. and WNET Thirteen.


Sticks Guy Eyes English Pics
Laurent Storch has joined HBB26 and Prods. du Ch’timi, the production shingles of producer-director Dany Boon (“Welcome to the Sticks,” France’s highest-grossing local-lingo film ever). The move signals Boon’s ambition to expand production activities. Boon wants to make English-language films in addition to local pics for the French market. While at TF1, Storch cultivated Yank relationships, overseeing acquisitions of U.S. TV shows and movies. Under his watch, the net co-produced blockbuster “The Intouchables.”


St. Peter’s Pirated Porn?
A survey by Italo anti-piracy org Fapav said 37% of Italians have consumed pirated audiovisual content more than once; the org estimates it cost showbiz $636 million a year. Italy has long been on the U.S. government’s watch list of countries where piracy is worst. Anti-piracy legislation is being stalled by the country’s political paralysis. Adding to the woes, the TorrentFreak blog claims evidence of illegal downloads inside Vatican City. They include U.S. TV shows, movies, and porn titles on at least two IP addresses within the city-state, which has 800 residents.


Bigscreen’s Big Moves
Imax is expanding its Italo footprint with a deal that’s part of its push into Italy. Imax inked with local exhib Arco Program for a screen within the Skyline Multiplex in Sesto San Giovanni on the outskirts of Milan, among Italy’s most lucrative markets. Talks are also under way between Imax and other Italo independent exhibitors for similar agreements based on a profit-participation business model. Imax already has three Italian venues.

Compiled by Tim Gray
Reported by John Hopewell, Elsa Keslassy, Robert Mitchell, Naman Ramachandran and Nick Vivarelli