How would you assess the industry-specific education available in the Emirate?
We need to bring general education to this industry, and the UAE has done a brilliant job in this respect. Film education in the UAE is growing, but, personally, I am an advocate for local talent attending the best international film schools and then bringing that world-class education back. Rather than reinventing the wheel by building new schools here, we should invest that same money and resource into other areas of the local industry's infrastructure. What the UAE needs is ongoing, practical training for professionals. Part of Image Nation's commitment to nurturing and developing future industry leaders has led to Arab Film Studio, our flagship training program. It offers intensive, hands-on training and mentoring for aspiring filmmakers across narrative, documentary, scriptwriting, and more. To date, we have worked with over 120 participants, and films created through part of the program have been shown at global festivals over 300 times.
How has the launch of Quest Arabiya developed, and what does it mean for the industry?
We have been incredibly successful in creating this channel. It is the 11th-most popular in the UAE and a top-30 channel in Saudi Arabia; it is watched in 22 Arabic-speaking countries. With the original content on Quest, we have set the same high standard in the factual entertainment space as we have in drama, impressing partners like the BBC, which has used our shows and marketing support materials to help its other licensees to elevate their own productions. The next step is to go beyond the single channel model and create versatile content to embrace the multichannel world.
What are your plans for the year ahead, and how do you see the industry developing in Saudi Arabia with the lifting of restrictions on forms of entertainment?
Abu Dhabi has gained global recognition as a leading creator of outstanding content, and winning both the BAFTA and Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for Free Solo with our long-time partner Parkes+MacDonald is a milestone that gives us even more momentum. We are also likely to have more original productions for international programmers. We have recently produced a film documenting Sheikh Zayed's efforts to save the African oryx that culminated with the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency's release of the species back to the wild in Chad. Thanks to the leadership's confidence in us, we were able to document this incredible undertaking with a film that is now being seen around the world. Increasingly, government organizations are coming to us with their own projects, recognizing the value we bring. This will prove to be important not only for Abu Dhabi, but for the UAE as a whole. It is helping us build a critical mass of Emirati talent, which is necessary to create an industry. As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, just as I have been advocating a national strategy for the creation of content in the UAE, we should have a regional strategy as well. It has taken us a considerable amount of money and nine years to get where we are. It makes enormous sense for the Saudis to take advantage of our experience and expertise and apply them to their scale. It is difficult to build a viable commercial industry with an audience of 1 million Emiratis, but in combination with 32 million Saudis, we can build an industry that in time will be capable of competing with any region in the world. The Saudis have been smart in first pursuing established concepts and projects that can be imported, such as Cirque du Soleil. This has demonstrated to people in the Kingdom and around the world that they are serious and committed to opening up and developing the entertainment sector. The next step to take is long-term investment in developing talent—something that cannot be bought. That will take time and patience.