Arabian Mice Arabian Mice
Issue 014

Arabian Mice

January 10, 2009

American film studios-including Warner Bros., Disney, and Fox-are making massive investments in the growing Arab movie market. But don't expect an influx of subtitled art-house fare from the Fertile Crescent. GOOD talked to Rachel Gandin, who is producing Disney's first Arabic-language film.

GOOD: Can you paint a picture of what's happening between Gulf countries and American film studios?RACHEL GANDIN: The United Arab Emirates, with its two massive emirates-Dubai and Abu Dhabi-have decided in the last three or four years that they want to be a center of media in the Arab world, along with being the center of everything else. American studios have long been looking into the deep pockets of the Gulf. This is their entry point.G: Why are these studios so keen to do it?RG: Outside of major cities, people don't have access to movie theaters. There are no movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. There's this amazing void in the market. It's 300 million people who aren't watching movies.G: Would Arab cinema appeal to Western audiences?RG: Arab filmmakers aren't trying to get approval in the West; they're building films in their own countries because that's where people [care]. Will these movies ever cross over and be in America? The stuff that the [global] masses love isn't necessarily the stuff that Americans love. I don't think that should be the goal. I think the goal should be to get people to watch movies.G: Do you think the predominance of American cultural exports is going to be eclipsed in our lifetime?RG: I kind of wonder if this is a big "f-you" to globalization. Like, "Oh, your culture actually matters, so you're going to make consumer choices based on your cultural taste." But I don't think so. The people who [the studios] are trying to reach in the Arab world are people who aren't necessarily watching American movies right now. [The studios are] trying to reach beyond that. They're trying to find new audiences. American movies will continue to be the big crazy shows that they are, $200-million movies that are 3-D and all this stuff, and then the local-language films are the ones that will be more culturally relevant. But I don't think American movies are going to stop being relevant.G: Is anyone talking about the pluses or minuses of American companies investing in cinema forthe Arab world?RG: People say things like, "What, Disney in the Arab world? Don't you remember how [messed] up Aladdin was?" It's bad business to offend people. It doesn't benefit anyone if you are making local movies and you're upsetting the people who live there. But at the same time, I think filmmakers are excited. Disney is the master of getting stuff done, doing it so people like it, even if it's not good art. And they're hoping to employ enough local talent so the people who are making these movies are Arab. But this could be one of those nightmares where a movie is made for a couple million dollars and then nobody goes to see it because one person posts on a website that this a Zionist plot. I have no doubt that with every movie that is going to be made, that has to be considered. We'll see.
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Arabian Mice