Ramped up Middle East presence at AFM

Buyers from Kuwait, Israel, UAE up 25%

Sweet treats from Jordan and Dubai and coffee from Turkey were being gobbled down by AFM attendees, who have discovered a noticeably ramped up presence from the Middle East at the market this year.

Hoisting perhaps the biggest flag from the Middle East is Dubai Studio City, whose executive director Jamal Al Sharif was in wall-to-wall meetings with Hollywood studio execs and a host of indie producers looking to do business there.

Middle Eastern companies are clearly making more of a presence at AFM as well as other major events such as Festival de Cannes and the MIP and MIPCOM TV markets in Cannes, Al Sharif noted.

And as Middle Eastern cities mushroom in size and population, so has the demand for entertainment, including television content. Dubai alone has some 185 TV channels, compared with just four a half a decade ago, he said.

"I am seeing many more buyers from Middle Eastern countries here at AFM," Al Sharif said.

Some 40 individual buyers from Kuwait, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Israel are at the market -- up 25% from last year. Middle Eastern companies in attendance total 18, up from 17 last year.

"Films unite audiences because they share the same moviegoing experiences," AFM chief Jonathan Wolf said. "We are confident that AFM attendance from the Middle East will continue to grow and independent film will bring our global community closer together every day."

Dubai Studio City, launched in 2005 to foster the growth of broadcast and film production in the region, has now, of course, become a world-renowned billion dollar-plus production and media hub.

Al Sharif said that, while he is in constant communications with the major studios and producers in the U.S., the opportunity to meet face-to-face at a major market like AFM is crucial. "The thirst for content is huge throughout the Middle East," he said. His ambition is to see a continued increase in local production alongside incoming projects from big studios.

He also is at AFM to promote Dubai as a location center for incoming productions and is quick to point out that there is far more to offer than great desert backdrops. "We can also double as New York or any major city," he said.

Also reporting major traffic and interest was the Royal Film Commission of Jordan, whose deputy general manager George David fielded a full team at a very visible booth on the atrium level at Loews hotel in Santa Monica.

The Jordanian government has embarked on a worldwide effort to bring in foreign film and TV production, he said. Being at AFM for only the second time has proven a success, even with only two days of business notched up. Most interest has come from U.S.-based producers at AFM.

Among the big incentives being offered are tax schemes and financial incentives as well as the availability of the Royal Jordanian army and even its air force -- not to mention access to such ancient sites as the world-famous monastery at Tetra, David said.