Magazine article Screen International

The One to Watch

Magazine article Screen International

The One to Watch

Article excerpt

Fuelled by a multiplex boom, the UAE box office is much bigger than previously believed. But market peculiarities and demographic quirks mean not all films perform as elsewhere.

Even as China lays claim to being the world's fastest-growing film market, there is another member of Asia's axis of emergent superpowers that has seen equally stratospheric growth of late: the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

This collection of seven emirates, led by Abu Dhabi and Dubai, has a combined population that falls somewhere between that of Moscow and St Petersburg. And yet, according to published research commissioned by Forbes Middle East from film analyst Alaa Karkouti, UAE's total box office grew to $110m in 2010 on the back of a multiplex-building boom that has seen the number of screens swell to more than 250.

That $110m figure, representing 11.8 million admissions, is 45% higher than the 2010 yearly total reported by Box Office Mojo and an eye-popping 94% increase from its 2009 tallies. China's own year-on-year growth during that period is put at 64%.

Part of the discrepancy boils down to what gets counted in a country populated largely by expatriates, many of them South-East Asian transient workers. The new method employed by the UAE's National Bureau of Statistics to measure the country's population by counting visas issued and cancelled, births and deaths, and using other administrative data, has yielded an official estimate of 8.3 million residents in the UAE, more than double the 4.1 million of the 2005 national census.

The same applies to measuring film revenues. Once the Bollywood, Malayalam and Tamil imports from India are accounted for, not to mention every Arab-language release, there are sharp variances from Hollywood's weekly distribution aggregates for the region which tend to focus on US titles.

'Razzie award winners are often box-office hits throughout the Gulf region'Gianluca Chacra, Front Row

The unusual demographics of the UAE, where less than 12% of dwellers are Emirati nationals, also lead to quirks in film appetites. Toy Story 3 may have been the most successful film worldwide in 2010, but it did not even make the top 10 in the UAE. On the other hand Salt, which ranked 21st that year in the US, was a hit in the UAE and throughout the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), namely Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia as well as the UAE. Salt finished seventh just ahead of Bollywood blockbuster My Name Is Khan. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time came in third.

"Quite frankly most Razzie award winners are often box-office hits throughout the GCC," notes Gianluca Chacra, head of UAE's leading independent distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment. "For example, Killers was as big as Harry Potter. It probably coincides with the tastes in Asia where lots of straight-to-video releases get a theatrical release. It's a major reason why we partnered with WWE [World Wrestling Entertainment]. With them, we've had theatrical hits with titles such as Legendary and The Chaperone that everywhere else in the world were released straight to video. Same with Hammer Films' The Resident. StreetDance 3D was a major hit too."

It would be easy to cite this apparent lack of sophistication as the reason why top festival winners and awards contenders have a more difficult time in UAE theatres. But Chacra says other factors peculiar to the UAE are at play. After all, 127 Hours opened number one in Kuwait and Nadine Labaki's Where Do We Go Now? …

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