Dubai festival sparks local film projects

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Filmmakers at the Dubai International Film Festival are making the most of the event as a springboard to put together locally set projects. And the hope is that these might stir the interest of deep-pocketed local investors hitherto focused only on real estate.

Producer-director Karl Haupt is in town touting a historical epic adventure with a working title that leaves no doubt as to its setting: "Dubai."

Spanning about 80 years, "Dubai" tells the story of a young tribesman from the Liwa oasis. During the tribe's migration to the coast, he is cast adrift in a freak storm and finds himself washed up in Oman, where he is enslaved by the hostile locals in the rugged mountains. There, he learns of their secret underground water system and a concealed channel that serves as his escape route, eventually leading him back to the oasis. But things have changed dramatically on his return.

Haupt plans to put the film together as a European co-production through his company Expressionist Film Co., but has been busy here sounding out potential local partners.

"I'm talking to Dubai Studio City, who said they can provide just about everything I need," he said. Perhaps more significantly, he also has met an intermediary who promises to unlock local investors until now unwilling to sink cash into the relatively high-risk film business.

"Apparently there are several investors interested not in investing in buildings anymore but investing in film. The moment is ripe for it," said Haupt, an American based in Cologne. "I've been pitching this for three days now, and everyone seems very enthused. The task is to convince them that film is a business that's not as risky as it sounds."

Haupt hopes to raise up to 70% of the English-language movie's $5 million-$10 million budget here, from a combination of private investment and sponsorship deals.

Meanwhile, in the festival's Dubai Film Connection initiative, another local project, the urban drama "The City That Cares," is drawing attention to its young local director Ali Mostafa.

"There's a lot of interest because it's the only project (from Dubai)," said Tim Smythe of local production company Filmworks, which is making the film.

But Smythe says the Emirate is no easy place to source financing. "They're shrewd businessmen. They understand real estate. Film is new and risky and they're risk averse. But because we're trying to develop local talent and it's an Emirati director, we're expecting more support," Smythe said.

Budgeted at $6 million, "City" is the most ambitious fully local picture ever to come out of Dubai. The film already has interest from a string of potential local partners, including Emirates Airline and the Dubai Shopping Festival, largely thanks to the director's origin.

Smythe said that barely one movie a year of international standard currently comes out of the Emirate.

"Dubai has a lot of shortcomings when it comes to producing films. There's no film fund, no film commission, no rebates, no subsidies. The only way it's going to happen is through a government initiative," he said.
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