Film As Nation Building: The UAE Goes Into the Movie Business

Alia Yunis


For the past 10 years, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been aggressively pioneering at a national, government-financed level the production of local films while also courting Hollywood producers as a financier and production center.

As a young, wealthy nation still conflicted about how it defines itself to itself and how it wishes to be defined outside its border--and as a country with no previous history in the visual arts of any kind and no movie-going culture until the late 1990s--the UAE presents a unique approach to the building of a film industry, one that is not grounded in previous models of national film building.

Through content analysis of UAE films and interviews with local filmmakers, framed through rhetoric scholar Kenneth Burke’s writing on symbolism, we look at how the UAE government wishes to be perceived abroad versus how its filmmakers—who have a co-dependent relationship with the government--are portraying the country.

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Films Cited

Arabyana (2006), Directed by Nayla Al Khaja, Independent

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011), Directed by James

Madden, Fox Searchlight

Bint Mariam (2008), Directed by Sayed Salmeen, Independent

The Circle (2009). Directed by Nawaf Al Janahi. UAE/Kuwait: MBC

City of Life (2010). Directed by Ali Mostafa. UAE: Film Works

Contagion (2011) Directed by Stephen Soderbergh, Warner Bros. Distribution

The Help (2011) Directed by Tate Taylor: Dreamworks.

L’arrive d’un train en gare (1895), Lumiere Bros.

Mission Impossible 4 (2011) Directed by Brad Bird, Paramount Studios

My Name is Khan (2010) Directed by Karan Johar, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Once (2009), Directed by Nayla Al Khaja, Independent

The Rescuers (2010) Directed by Saeed Al Dhaheri, Independent

Sabeel (2011). Directed by Khalid Mahmoud. UAE.

Sea Shadow (2011) Directed by Nawaf Al Janahi. UAE:

Image Nation

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Shorts (2009), Directed by Robert Rodriguez, Warner Bros. Distribution

Sun Dress (2010) Directed by Saeed Al Murry, Independent

Syriana (2005) Directed by Stephen Gaghan, Warner Bros Distribution

TelePhoni (2011) Directed by Hassan Kylani, Independent

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Directed by Tobe Hooper, Independent

Under the Sun (2005), Ali Mostafa, Independent

The Wayfarer (1988), Abdullah Bastiki, Independent



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