The Silverscreen Dream
With more and more people choosing a night at the movies to forget about the economic crisis, cinemas are experiencing a boom. TRENDS’s Atique Naqvi bags a seat in the front row to get the full picture.
May 31, 2011 2:52 by Atique Naqvi
“Comedy and action movies are extremely popular in the UAE,” said Golchin. “In 2009, the highest grosser was The Dark Knight and in 2009 it was 2012 and in 2010 it was Avatar.”
With increased competition in the UAE, the cinema owners are pressed to introduce the latest technologies to their theatres. 3D animation films are among the latest sources of robust ticket sales, said Michelle Walsh, marketing manager of Cinestar Cinemas. After the tremendous global success of Avatar, 3D seems to be the mantra of success. “Due to the growing demand for 3D movies, we are adding more 3D screens to both Reel Cinemas,’’ said Kirk. ‘‘This will, of course, increase the number of movies and timings for 3D movies and effectively attract more visitors, especially with a line-up of 3D movies such as Transformers 4, Pirates of the Caribbean 4, and many more.”
However, the screening of films in the region sometimes is affected by the strict censorship laws, which is a result of cultural and traditional sensitivities, and the cinema owners adhere to the local rules. “Of course, we respect the culture of the region, however, the banning of films results in financial losses,” said Golchin. “As distributors, we have to buy a movie in advance and when it is rejected by the authorities, the money which we had invested is lost.’’
For example, Grand Cinemas bought the first Sex and the City movie and the review committee in Dubai suggested several cuts, but those cuts would have meant too many jumps in the movie, so the firm dropped the idea of screening it, he added. “Also, a PG movie can be rated 18+ because of a few explicit scenes, and therefore affect (ticket) collections as movie- goers under 17 are not allowed to enter the theater,” Golchin added.
Censorship laws also differ from one GCC country to another, further complicating movie screenings. “There is another angle to it, mostly the movies approved by Dubai and Abu Dhabi are easy to screen in Bahrain and Oman, but Qatar and Kuwait are very strict. There have been instances, when an approved movie has been rejected by Kuwait or Qatar.”
Chuck and Larry, My Best Friend’s Girl, Funny People and Just Friends are some of the movies that were released in the UAE but banned in Kuwait and Qatar, said Golchin, who distributes movies to neighboring Gulf countries through Gulf Film. A common film review committee for the GCC countries would be a great help for the film business in the region, Golchin added.
Reel doesn’t feel censorship has a big impact on the cinema business in the UAE. “Any movies to be screened in the UAE have to be approved by the concerned authorities, which is the norm in virtually all markets,’’ said Kirk. ‘‘This has not affected the movie business adversely, as is evident from the growth of the movie entertainment business in the UAE.”
Film festivals in the region, especially in the UAE, have played a significant role in popularizing cinema in general.
“Film festivals have helped create more awareness about films, especially art-house films, and generate more buzz for movies from across the world,’’ Kirk explained. ‘‘This, in fact, helps in bringing not just Hollywood films, but also films from other parts of the world to the audiences in Dubai.’’ Through its partnership with Dubai International Film Festival and local film makers and distributors, Reel Cinemas has introduced initiatives aimed at encouraging regional talent and strengthening cinema appreciation, he added. The Picturehouse, Reel’s dedicated art-house cinema, hosts country-focused dedicated screenings twice a year, showcasing a selection of films from chosen destinations, giving visitors a taste of movies from various backgrounds.
Golchin said that film festivals do create awareness, not only about the mainstream cinema, but also about the art films from across the world as well. The emergence of home-based films also is a plus. “The budding filmmakers are indeed good news for the cinema business in this region,” said Golchin. “We are very excited about the Emirati filmmakers such as Ali Mostafa who directed City of Life.” Mostafa’s film was a hit in cinemas in the UAE, he said.
Greater screenings of local films will help develop the GCC’s movie industry and create even more box office hits for cinemas “Films by Emirati directors obviously help in encouraging more film professionals from the region to pursue their dreams and create powerful cinema, which helps strengthen the country’s movie industry,’’ said Kirk. This is highlighted by the large number of Emirati films being screened at Dubai International Film Festival, the Gulf Film Festival and Abu Dhabi Film Festivals. Reel Cinemas had screened a large selection of Emirati short films as part of the UK Film Season highlighting the emergence of new Emirati talent and the evolution of the country’s film industry.
However, the biggest potential market in the GCC, Saudi Arabia, is still not open to films, but when it does, it will provide a big boost to the film business in the region. “Currently, we have distribution rights for films in Saudi. There is a single-screen theater in Jeddah and we supply movies,’’ said Golchin. “There are a few groups in Saudi who are in talks with the government to open multiplexes, and once they get the permission it will be good, not only for us, but for the entire entertainment industry in this region.”
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