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


  • Alia Yunis Zayed University



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.

Author Biography

Alia Yunis, Zayed University

Associate Professor, College of Communication & Media Sciences, Zayed University



Abu Dhabi Media Company Research commissioned about UAE film outlets. Unpublished raw data, 2010

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Burke, Kenneth “The Definition of Man,” The Hudson Review, Vol.16, No. 4, Winter 1963-1964, pp 491-514

Laura Chubb “Film Review: City of Life,” Time Out Dubai, 20 April 2010

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Internet Movie Database, Mission Impossible Box Office,

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Zayed University, Focus Group, led by author, April 2012, Abu Dhabi, UAE


Bogerding, Ed, Image Nation CEO, Interviewed by Author, May 30, 2010

Cable, Robert, Mission Impossible, Production Manager, Interviewed by Author, February 4, 2012

Capriata, Cynthia, Artist, Interviewed by Author, April 28, 2012

Chaudoir, David, Gulf Researcher, Interviewed by Author, April 29, 2012

Al Jabri, Adel, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Interviewed by Author, July 7, 2011 & December 20, 1013

Al Janahi, Nawaf, Interviewed by Author, September 12, 2011 & March 24, 2014

Al Marri, Rashid, Interviewed by Author July 7, 2011

Al Mahmood, Khalid Interviewed by Author, July 15, 2011

Karkouti, Alaa, Interviewed by Author, October 20, 2011 & November 4, 2013

Mostafa, Ali, Director, Interviewed by Author, June 7, 2010

Smith, Tim, FilmWorks, Interviewed by Author, June 7, 2010

Venn, Paul, TwoFour54, Interviewed by Author, October 20, 2011

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

Sex and the City 2 (2010) Directed by Michael Patrick King, Warner Bros. Distribution

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




How to Cite

Yunis, A. (2014). Film As Nation Building: The UAE Goes Into the Movie Business. CINEJ Cinema Journal, 3(2), 49–75.