Oil-rich Gulf State Qatar has been on a mission to diversify its economy during the last decade. As part of this process, it has become a leading venue for major sports events. Its biggest coup on this front was being selected to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Previous highlights include the 2007 Asian Games, which was successfully hosted by Qatar’s capital city Doha.
Running in parallel, Qatar’s biggest media project to date has been the global roll-out of broadcaster Al Jazeera. In terms of film and TV production it has lagged behind the United Arab Emirates, where Dubai and Abu Dhabi have both invested significant amounts in attracting high-profile international producers. But it looks like this situation is set to change.
The country now has a body called The Doha Film Institute (DFI), which is attempting to build a sustainable film infrastructure and promote Qatar as a location. As part of that process, it is positioning itself as a co-production partner and was recently involved in financing Black Gold and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It is also a prime mover behind the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, which took place in November this year.
The fact that Qatar is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup is expected to boost the local film and TV business. Already, some companies have benefitted by being commissioned to make promotional films locally. The next big opportunity will be for commercials to be shot in Qatar as the event gets closer.
In terms of basic requirements, the transport infrastructure, hotels and security are all plus points for Qatar. Possible negatives are the cost of living and the summer temperatures.
In terms of recent productions to have taken place in Qatar, the most high-profile is the feature film Black Gold. Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud (The Name of the Rose, Seven Years in Tibet), the film used Tunisia and Qatar as key locations. In the case of Qatar, the main filming occurred in the desert at Mesaieed – which is about 40km outside the capital Doha.
As mentioned in the introduction, the DFI was involved in the film as a financial partner. It is looking at significantly ramping up its filmmaking activities so is well worth contacting some of the UAE’s leading film and commercials producers have also identified Qatar as an opportunity for growth. Examples are Dubai-based Central Films and Filmworks. The latter now has a JV in Qatar with the well-established local firm DTM. Explaining its interest, Filmworks says: “Qatar boasts the largest per capita production and the highest GDP per capita in the world with the largest amounts of exports in terms of liquefied natural gas, oil, petrochemicals and related industries. It is a flourishing country with new needs to be served by a safe, professional, and state of the art film industry.”
There’ve been some unusual one-off projects in Qatar too, such as musician Kanye West shooting a video in Doha.
Qatar can still be pretty bureaucratic when it comes to filming. In 2012 two Swiss journalists were picked up by the police for shooting in Mesaieed without permission. The key lesson to learn from this case is that failure to go through the right channels can cause hold ups.
As a starting point, talk to the DFI, and experience players like Filmworks, DTM or Central Films, the Ministry of Information or the embassy in your own country. One point worth noting is the extreme temperature, which makes shooting in the summer extremely difficult. That said, other times of the year can also be problematic because of sand storms. Again, the key is to work with producers that know local conditions.
Production firm Filmworks says Qatar “provides diverse locations, from its traditional souks to the golden sand dunes that reach down to the Arabian Gulf. Its carved antique doors, intricately designed mosque minarets, hand-woven rugs and brass-studded swords are a must for any location recce”.
It’s not only traditional Islamic/Bedouin sights and deserts that attract interest from producers however. Doha is also a futuristic capital city with potential to be used as the backdrop for car or finance ads. It has modern architecture, off-shore developments, state of the art sports facilities and world class educational establishments. High-profile sites include the Aspire Dome and the Qatar Science and Technology Park.
The country also has an attractive coastline that is pretty easy to get to from Doha. While there haven’t been many examples yet, it’s possible that some of Qatar’s more pristine beaches could be used to double for other tropical spots if necessary (though it’s probably not the cheapest way of doing this).
While Qatar is keen to develop its film and TV capabilities, crews and equipment still tend to come over Dubai and there is limited studio capacity within the country. That said, there are a few key companies operating locally. DTM is one of the best known and has been active since 2002.
DFI Productions, the production arm of the Doha Film Institute, calls itself “a full-service company offering creative development, production, post-production, edit suite rentals, media duplications, transfers, equipment rentals. While focusing on creating content to the highest international standard, DFIP strives to incorporate education and training opportunities for local aspiring filmmakers where possible.”
Most acting talent in Qatar is Arabic in origin. But there is a large and youthful migrant population in the Arabian Gulf region which can act as a European or Asiatic talent pool.