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Films that were – and weren’t – made in the UAE

City of Life, the UAE’s first homegrown feature, premieres this month. We take a look at other UAE-shot movies – and those that were banned from filming here by the authorities.

April 9, 2010 5:27 by

  • The third annual Gulf Film Festival (GFF), an annual cultural celebration of Gulf cinema, opened Thursday in Dubai and runs through April 14th. The festival aims to encourage creativity and support the work of regional filmmakers. Cinematic entries in various categories will be screened, and students may compete in the short films and documentary formats. International entries will also be featured.

    The GFF opens this year with acclaimed feature film, City of Life, shot entirely on location in Dubai. While UAE’s film industry is attracting international attention, not all films that were planned to be shot in the UAE got permission to film here.

  • City of Life is the UAE’s first large-scale, full-length feature film. The multi-lingual ‘urban drama’ film explores themes of race and class divide through the experiences of its three main characters: a privileged young Emirati man, struggling with issues of cultural identity, a disillusioned Indian taxi-driver, and a former Romanian ballet dancer.

    Budget for the film was a reported $7 million. Director Ali Mostafa is the first Emirati filmmaker to write and direct a film shot entirely in Dubai.

    The film’s premiere caused a sensation at the Dubai International Film Festival in December, despite its treatment of controversial themes such as sex, alcohol, and violence.

    City of Life is scheduled to open the Gulf Film Festival this month at Dubai Festival City.

  • Curse of the Devil is among the feature films scheduled for screening at this month’s GFF. The film follows a group of journalists on an exploration to Kingdom of the Elves' Island. When the group disappears, media outlets raid the island to search for the missing, and a conflict ensues between the humans and resident djinns, or devils.

    Other UAE entrants to be screened include Bilaadi, Two, A Sketch of a Life in the UAE, Habl al-Ghaseel (Clothes Line), and Hares al-Layl (Night Guard).

  • “Sex and the City 2” is the sequel to the international blockbuster that netted a cool $415 million in ticket sales worldwide.

    The film, based on the popular HBO television series, Sex and the City, and starring Sarah Jessica Parker, is scheduled for release in May 2010.

    Filmmakers were reportedly denied permission by UAE authorities to film at Dubai Studio City, citing sensitivity to the “multicultural fabric of the society and its perceptions,” according to local media. Filming was relocated to Morocco instead.

  • Directed by John Singleton, who made Boyz n the Hood and 2 Fast 2 Furious, the A-Team remakes the hit American television series of the 1980’s. Produced by 20th Century Fox and boasting a $100 million budget, the film follows the exploits of four Vietnam War veterans who fled prison to become vigilantes for hire.

    In 2008, it was rumored that the A Team would be filmed in Dubai, but this did not happen, and was instead filmed in Canada. A June 2010 release is scheduled.

  • An action-packed thriller starring Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner, Dubai was reportedly the first site choice for the film, which was shot entirely in Abu Dhabi.  The movie follows an FBI team, as they  investigate a terrorist attack on an American housing compound in Riyadh.

    The film was screened at the 2007 Edinburgh International Film Festival as its yearly 'Surprise Movie.'

  • Syriana, a political thriller starring George Clooney was filmed on location in the UAE and other parts of the Middle East. “There’s so much construction going on all the time in Dubai that it throws an immense amount of dust into the air,” explained Steve Gaghan, acclaimed director of the film. The quality of light in the Dubai sky, no matter what the season, is something that just couldn’t be realistically reproduced on a soundstage in the US, Gaghan said.

    Syriana examines the corruption, intrigue, and secrecy of the global oil industry. Investigative study for the production took Gaghan on an extended research trip through Lebanon, Syria, Dubai, and North Africa.

    Gaghan reportedly said that he believed oil to be “the world’s crack addiction.”

    “I started thinking that maybe the biggest addiction in our country is how we’re hooked on cheap foreign oil,” Gaghan said.

  • Directed by acclaimed filmmaker, Ridley Scott, and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, Body of Lies was reportedly planned for filming in Dubai, but later nixed on grounds of its sensitive political nature.

    Variety magazine reported that UAE authorities were reluctant to have Dubai associated with “film subjects related to terrorism, Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism.”

    “Dubai does not want to do any scripts that are of a political nature," Tim Smythe, CEO of Filmworks, reportedly explained.

    The ambitious plot is set in various locations around the world – including Qatar’s US military base, Dubai, Syria, and Jordan. All filming, however, was reportedly done in the US and Morocco.


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