Why the World Premiere of 'MI:4' Will Put Dubai on the Map

Mission Impossibe- Ghost Protocol - Tom Cruise Climbing Building - 2011 h

The Dubai International Film Festival has become the focal point for the film industry in one of the fastest-growing markets in the world.

For the world premiere of Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol at the Dubai International Film Festival next week, Tom Cruise isn’t planning on reenacting 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,” joked Dubai Film Festival 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. The first Dubai Film Festival in 2004 drew around 13,000 fans. More than 50,000 are expected to attend this year’s 8th anniversary event. And that doesn’t include the pack of film journos flying in pre-fest for the MI:4 junket.

“Having a movie of this size premiere here really puts us on the map,” said Juma. “It takes the Dubai Film Festival to the next level. And it’s fitting that it’s this film that does it because Dubai is the ‘Mission: Possible’ of the Arab world.”

Since its launch in 2004, the Dubai fest has gone from being one of the hundreds of wannabe global movie events to become the industry focal point in one the world’s fastest growing markets. Five years ago, movie theaters in the United Arab Emirates – the federation of Arabian principalities including Dubai – sold around 3 million tickets. Last year that figure was more than 10 million. Dubai has become a “hotspot for multiplex construction” in the Middle East/Africa region, according to Screen Digest, and a major reason why box office in the area hit $350 million last year, more than double the $161 million earned in 2003.

“This still isn't a huge market but is going in the right direction," said Juma. "The studios think long-term about the potential here."

Paramount Pictures’ decision to bow MI: 4 in Dubai is a way of acknowledging that potential. Paramount made a similar nod to the exploding Russian market when it held the world premiere of Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon at the Moscow Film Festival this summer.

Other films using the Dubai festival (Dec. 7-14) as a launch pad for the region include Disney’s The Muppets, 20th Century Fox’s The Decendants and The Weinstein Company’s My Week With Marilyn, all of which have gala screenings at the fest.

For Dubai, Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol is also a mega-budget ad for shooting in the region. Director Brad Bird did extensive filming in the Gulf city, with scenes set in Dubai’s old town, its offshore Palm Island development and, of course, inside and out of the Burj Khalifa skyscraper.

Dubai is ramping up its filming facilities – a fully-equipped studio is expected to begin operations by 2013-2014 – and hopes to continue to attract tentpole productions with its unbeatable tax incentive: a zero percent tax rate.

For independent producers, Dubai has also extended an olive branch in the form of its co-production market, the Dubai Film Connection, which brings together Arab filmmakers with industry professionals from around the world.

“Up till now Hollywood has largely been the focus, the Arab world has just started to warm up to indie filmmaking,” said German producer Roman Paul, whose credits include Middle East co-productions, and Oscar-nominees, Paradise Now and Waltz With Bashir and who is currently in pre-production on another project set in the region. “But Dubai is pushing things forward. If you’re interested in doing business in that region, it’s where you have to be.”