I sat down with twofour54 Intaj Executive Director Paul Baker (pictured above with yours truly) bright and early this morning in the UAE Pavilion at the Festival de Cannes. He explained not only the current 30 percent production rebate offered in Abu Dhabi, which has helped attract some major productions to the Emirate lately, but also twofour54′s mission of, in Baker’s own words, culturally “inspiring the youth of the Gulf and help create a long-term sustainable production hub.” As a result, both Hollywood and Bollywood have taken notice and now the media coverage on Star Wars alone will create a deafening buzz in the region. And around the world. I know of journalists who went sneaking around the desert to find out the exact location, and get some first, exclusive photos of the set and crew, which arrived in Abu Dhabi at the beginning of May.
The great thing about Abu Dhabi is that although the cinema industry there is relatively new, the Emirate possesses some of the best infrastructure and human resources ever. There is also the hospitality aspect, with hotels and airlines ready to receive with typical Emirati grace, and the collaboration of the government. In the case of recent Bollywood production Bang Bang, the entire Corniche, the central artery of Abu Dhabi, was shut down over a weekend to allow for the shooting of a scene. Just try and do that in NYC. Plus, as Baker so beautifully put it, “you can shoot a make-believe downtown Baghdad in the morning and retire to your posh hotel at night,” since both heritage and luxury live side by side in Abu Dhabi. But enough gushing, on my part. It’s no secret how I feel about the UAE, and for my own very selfish, very personal reasons, I am super happy about this latest announcement.
A couple of days ago, truly in Cannes-time it seems like years ago, I met Adrien Brody and director Lee Tamahori, who announced their latest project, a film based on Charles the Fifth titled Emperor. Although best known for his motto Plus Ultra, meaning “further beyond,” I enjoyed finding in my research this quote about him: “Not greedy of territory,” wrote Marcantonio Contarini in 1536, “but most greedy of peace and quiet.” It explained perfectly the choice of Brody for the role. Yet both Tamahori, a wonderfully uncompromising man with an infectious interest in everything and everyone, and Brody, who looked divinely dashing in his Dolce and Gabbana camel-colored suit, assured me that this more subtle side of Charles’ character would not be the focus of the film, rather a period of two years when he fought, conquered, loved and lived. Probably a better choice, much more exciting and cinematic.