The multiplex at Dubai's vast Festival City shopping mall is offering cinema-goers a choice of 14 movies this month. The majority are Hollywood blockbusters such as Ridley Scott's Body Of Lies, and High School Musical 3: Senior Year, screened in English with Arabic subtitles. The city's sizeable Indian community might be drawn to Yuvvraaj, the Bollywood musical staring Anil Kapoor. A single Arabic-language title flashes above the mall's box office: Egyptian drama Banat Wa Motocyclat. Despite the extensive choice, it could be argued there is no single film here that reflects the 'true' identity of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), or even its potential as a shooting location: ironically, although Scott had sought to film in Dubai for Body Of Lies, the Emirates' National Media Council denied him permission because of the script's politically sensitive content (it ended up being shot in Morocco).
Perhaps unsurprisingly in a country where summer temperatures regularly exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit, going to the movies is an incredibly popular leisure activity in the UAE. It is also one that fits well with the prevailing consumer culture enjoyed by locals and expats alike. "All over the UAE, every new shopping mall has a multiplex, and if you go at the weekends, you'll see they're always full," says Dubai Film Market director Ziad Yaghi. "Certainly, 2008 was the highest-grossing box-office year ever for cinemas in this country." The Dark Knight, the UAE's biggest film of 2008, garnered 280,000 admissions.
Although the films shown are usually planted in the middle of the road - arthouse content is all but unheard of in the territory - and there are some cinema gripes in expat circles (arctic air conditioning, people chattering on mobiles mid-movie, the heavy hand of the government censor, etc), the huge increase in the number of screens is gradually raising the bar in terms of quality and choice.
As recently as last year, quality titles such as Atonement only lasted a week or so in Dubai. Now, it seems, multiplex programmers are able to allow quality films to build before they are replaced. Much of the credit for this lies with the Dubai film festival, which has done much to remind audiences this is a diverse, cosmopolitan market with at least the potential for discernment.
Diff, with its expanding industry office and commitment to helping Arab film-makers meet their potential, is also doing everything in its power to stimulate a viable local film industry in Dubai. Syriana, The Kingdom, Jumper ... the world is used to seeing the UAE on its screens. But how long before the multiplexes of Dubai boast an Emirati-made feature on their billboards'