Tom Cruise's Middle East Moment

6:00 AM PST 11/29/2011 by Scott Roxborough
Paramount Pictures/Album/Newscom

Dubai Film Fest premiere of "Ghost Protocol" reveals the region's box-office explosion.

For the world premiere of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol at the Dubai International Film Festival on Dec. 7, Tom Cruise isn't planning on re-enacting the money shot from the movie's trailer by rappelling down the 2,716 feet of Dubai's Burj Khalifa skyscraper. "He did it once for the movie, and I think that's enough for him," jokes Dubai fest chairman Abdulhamid Juma.

But even without the stunt, the impact of the MI:4 premiere -- the first major studio tentpole to debut in the Middle East -- will be immense.

"Having a movie of this size premiere here really takes the Dubai Film Festival to the next level," says Juma. "And it's fitting that it's this film that does it because Dubai is the 'mission possible' of the Arab world."

Indeed, since its launch in 2004, the Dubai fest (helped by generous backing from the emirate's royal family which bankrolls the event) has become the industry focal point in one of the world's fastest-growing markets. In the past five years, ticket sales in the United Arab Emirates -- a federation of seven Arab principalities including Dubai -- have soared from about 3 million to more than 10 million in 2010. The bulk of that, some 65 percent, has been in Dubai, the most cosmopolitan (more than 80 percent of the population is foreign-born) and tolerant of the oil-rich emirates.

That tolerance extends to the fest's program, which includes a sidebar -- Arab Nights -- devoted to films focusing on the recent Arab Spring protests around the region, including Tahrir, a cinema verite-style documentary from French director Stefano Savona that offers a streets-level view of the Egyptian revolt that toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Nevertheless, the Dec. 7 to 14 fest likely will be remembered as the time Hollywood made its courtship of the region official with the MI:4 premiere. It's an especially savvy move by Cruise, whose global popularity can only benefit from the exposure Dubai offers to the Middle East and the massive India market.

MI:4 also can be seen as a mega-budget ad for shooting in the region. The emirate is looking to open a fully equipped studio by 2013 or 2014 and hopes to continue to attract tentpoles with its zero percent tax rate.

"Dubai is pushing things forward," says German producer Roman Paul, whose credits include Middle East co-productions Paradise Now and Waltz With Bashir. "If you're interested in doing business in that region, it's where you have to be."

FILM FEST IN IRAQ?! Holding a British film fest in a war-torn city with no cinemas sounds crazy, but the first such event in Erbil, the capital of Kurdish Iraq, came off without a hitch. From Nov. 26 to 28, some 2,500 locals, including the Kurdish prime minister, came out to enjoy such hits as The Queen and Billy Elliot on a pop-up screen inside Erbil's Saad Palace. "For most, eating popcorn and watching a movie on the big screen was an entirely new experience," Kurdish government rep Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman tells THR. "We hope this is just the beginning of building bridges between Britain and Iraq through the medium of cinema."

 
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