EXCLUSIVE: Abu Dhabi’s Media Zone Authority is restructuring its film operations, earmarking more than $100 million to spend over the next five years directly on film and TV production in Abu Dhabi, and shutting down the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. The move to cancel the festival will not affect the operations of the Sanad film fund, which has provided crucial financing to dozens of local and regional films over the year.

It also comes after something of a banner year across the board for Abu Dhabi from both an inward investment and production point of view. Abu Dhabi execs scored two major coups by attracting both Fast And The Furious 7 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens to shoot in the desert-set metropolis.

Noura Al-Kaabi

What’s more, Image Nation Abu Dhabi, the main film financing arm of the Media Zone Authority, has become re-energized under the stewardship of chairman Mohamed Al Mubarak and chief exec Michael Garin. The company is making a concerted effort to support local and regional filmmakers, such as Emirati directors Ali Mostafa with From A To B and Majid Al Ansari with Zinzana. The company also has feature-length documentary He Named Me Malala, about Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize winner, in the pipelines. Directed by Oscar-winner Davis Guggenheim, and co-financed with Participant, the film looks at the events leading up to the Taliban’s cowardly attack on the courageous young Pakistani school girl on a bus, after she spoke out for the education of young girls. Then 15, she was shot three times, point blank, and left for dead. She miraculously survived; the film traces her recovery that led to a stirring speech at the United Nations. Fox Searchlight is releasing worldwide in the fall.

Image Nation is also making a concerted push into Arabic language TV production — a huge growth area — that could become a major revenue generator and job creator for the company in the years to come.

The fest, which launched to much fanfare in 2007 with ambitions to become the “Davos of the film world,” initially served a purpose to help out the ambitious, oil-rich Abu Dhabi on the map. Industry heavyweights such as Harvey Weinstein, Ryan Kavanaugh and WME Global chief Graham Taylor ventured east for the inaugural year.

Since then, however, the consolidation of the diversified film and TV production activities under the Media Zone Authority mean the fest is surplus to requirements for Abu Dhabi execs to follow through on their ambitions to create a sustainable media industry both in Abu Dhabi and the UAE as a whole.

“Over the last few years, we have built a strong foundation for a self-sustaining film and TV industry,” said Media Zone Authority chief exec Noura Al-Kaabi. “It is now the right time to deepen our commitment and further develop programmes to take the local industry to the next level.”