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MORELIA, Mexico – Now ranking second in the world in terms of admissions, Morelia-based giant exhibitor Cinepolis is expanding into the Middle East and has set up a beachhead in Dubai with former Cinepolis India expansion chief Ashish Shukla at the helm. Plans are underway to raise a still unquantified number of screens in the Gulf states of Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates by next year.

“Firstly, we were invited to enter the market, and secondly, we also saw the opportunity to reach some under-screened areas,” said Cinepolis CEO Alejandro Ramirez. “It’s also a chance for us to further extend our reach into that part of world, given our presence in Asia,” he said.

Cinepolis runs some 277 screens in India, all leased from mall developers. According to Ramirez, theatrical content is mostly local in India where Bollywood edges out Hollywood more often than not. In multicultural Bangalore, hailed as the Silicon Valley of India, Cinepolis programs content in five languages: Hindi, Tamil, English, Kannada and Telugu, he said.

Cinepolis entered its fourteenth market some two months ago when it bought a stake in Village Cines, Argentina, boosting its current worldwide screen count to 5,209 to make it the fourth largest exhibition group in the world in terms of screen count.

Cinepolis is the only international exhibitor present in four continents: North America, South America, Asia and Europe.

As the main sponsor of the Morelia Film Festival, Cinepolis has witnessed the festival blossom during its 15 editions. “Our main objective was always to see it grow in quality, not necessarily in quantity,” said Ramirez. “We wanted it to grow but not lose its intimacy; to continue to be accessible and democratic, with free open-air screenings, master classes and other activities,” he added.

“We want it to remain true to its essence, to be a platform for new Mexican filmmakers, and also attract filmmakers from all over the world,” said Ramirez, a common sight at the festival as he, general director Daniela Michel and VP Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas share hosting duties.

On Nov.17, Cinepolis’ fledgling two-year old theatrical distribution operation is releasing Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” which Gore personally presented at its premiere in Morelia, as part of the exhibitor’s drive to introduce more documentaries to Mexican auds.

Kickstarted with Jonas Cuaron’s “Desierto” in early 2016, Cinepolis Distribution, run by Leopoldo Cordero, has released an average of 18 to 22 Mexican and upscale foreign titles in the past two years.

Some local titles include multiple Morelia winner “Bellas de Noche,” Maria Jose Cuevas docu about showgirls of the ‘70s and ‘80s, released last year. This year, Cinepolis released Impulso Morelia winner “Plaza de la Soledad,” which also participated at the 2016 Sundance Fest.