UK film industry in rude health despite virus horror

UK film industry in rude health despite virus horror
Pinewood, which has played a key role in the James Bond films, and other world-renowned studios in the UK are enjoying big growth. (AFP)
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Updated 15 November 2020

UK film industry in rude health despite virus horror

UK film industry in rude health despite virus horror
  • The sector has adapted quickly to the demands imposed by the pandemic

LONDON: Far from being wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic, Britain’s film and television industry is enjoying a blockbuster run thanks in large part to a surge in online streaming.

Attracting global production teams to spectacular landscapes, gothic castles and state-of-the-art studios in the UK, the nation’s film industry has enjoyed big growth in recent years — also thanks to tax breaks.

From blockbuster movie franchises such James Bond and Star Wars to the hit US series “Games of Thrones,” Britain has a long history of filming international hits despite enduring some lean times.

“The UK screen industries are a huge success story and a big contributor to the cultural economy of Europe,” said Gary Davey, chief executive of Sky Studios. 

“We have a wealth of talent right across the UK, both on-screen and off-screen. I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” Davey told AFP.

US-owned broadcasting group Sky is pressing ahead with new multi-billion-dollar facilities in Hertfordshire, north of London — already home to long-standing Elstree studios, or “Britain’s Hollywood.”

Even if the real Hollywood continues to dominate, the British film sector is by no means a small player, employing about 140,000 people and generating billions of pounds for the economy annually.

Bollywood is also a big fan.

“The UK is historically a preferred shooting location for a lot of Indian films,” said Vikram Malhotra, CEO of Abundantia Entertainment.

“The UK is a very shooting-friendly location. Not only is there support and facilitation available for production but also you get support in key areas such as trained crew, equipment, actors and post-production.”

Malhotra praised the UK’s response amid the pandemic.

“The UK government and its departments have moved quickly and supported us, especially where production is concerned, which has made the UK even more attractive now,” he said.

Tuning in to the sector’s importance, the government authorized at the start of July — as the UK was exiting its first lockdown — the resumption of filming “Mission Impossible 7,” while allowing crews quarantining exemption.

Culture minister Oliver Dowden, whose parliamentary constituency Hertsmere is home to Elstree studios, even contacted “Mission Impossible” star Tom Cruise to reassure him.

In general, the UK film industry got back to work quickly after the end of the first lockdown, while it has been allowed to keep the cameras rolling during the second enforcement being endured by much of the country.

“The vast majority of our shows both in the UK and internationally are now back up and running,” said David McGraynor, chief operating officer at ITV Studios.

Davey said that since resumption, Sky has split production into various close-contact groups.

“The very few cases of COVID we have seen on set have all been contained very quickly, proving that this method of pooling teams together is working.

“Productions can take a little longer, but it’s actually the pre-production work and planning that now takes up more time,” he noted.

Davey said the sector has adapted quickly — “reimagining storylines and using new technology such as remote editing to deliver shows on time and on budget.”

“One thing that our industry is good at is innovation,” he added.

The COVID pandemic is boosting already popular streaming platforms such as Netflix and Disney+, in part owing to the temporary closures of cinemas worldwide.

These two US entertainment giants are among a group of companies helping to expand Britain’s studio network.

Sky Studios Elstree is due to open in 2022 on a site close to the existing Elstree Studios, where many of “Star Wars” movies have been filmed, as well as global hits including “Indiana Jones,” “Superman” and “The Shining.”

Also in 2022, US group Blackhall is set to open new studios west of London. The capital’s Shepperton studios has struck an agreement with Netflix, broadcaster of “The Crown” — the hit series chronicling the life of Queen Elizabeth II.

Pinewood, which has forged a partnership with Disney, is expanding its site most famous for its key role in the 007 films and also wants to open it up to the public by offering attractions.

“We have all these incredible opportunities,” Adrian Wootton, CEO of Film London and the British Film Commission, told a recent conference.

“They’re not stopping because of COVID. In fact, the appetite for doing them is even greater, notwithstanding the challenges we’ve recently experienced.”

UK production spending hit £3.7 billion ($4.8 billion) in 2019, more than half for cinema.

“If we can harness that content boom, we could get from three billion to six billion pounds” by 2024, he predicted.


Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
Updated 11 May 2021

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
  • Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year

DUBAI: The Middle East saw a 5 percent increase in its renewable energy capacity in 2020, as the region’s push to go greener stalled.
Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year, according to a report by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Growth in the sector slowed from the 13 percent increase in renewables capacity achieved between 2018 and 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on projects in the pipeline.
Still, the targets set by countries in the region could translate into a combined 80 GW of renewable capacity by 2030, IRENA said.
The global agency said the regional renewables push goes hand-in-hand with the Middle East’s ambition to diversify its economy, with projects typically bringing other economic benefits.
“The region recognizes the socio-economic benefits of renewable energy deployment, which is perceived as an opportunity for industrial diversification, new value-chain activities and technology transfer,” IRENA said.
The UAE has grown its renewable energy capacity from just 13MW in 2011 to 2,540 MW capacity in 2020. Saudi Arabia’s capacity also grew significantly over nine years – starting at only 3MW and increasing to 413 MW last year.


Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
Updated 11 May 2021

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
  • IOC’s refineries at 95 percent of their capacity in late April
  • Several Indian states remain under lockdown

NEW DELHI: India’s top oil refiners are reducing processing runs and crude imports as the surging COVID-19 pandemic has cut fuel consumption, leading to higher product stockpiles at the plants, company officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
Indian Oil Corp, the country’s biggest refiner, has reduced runs to an average of between 85 percent and 88 percent of processing capacity, a company official said, adding runs could be cut further as some plants are facing problems storing refined oil products.
IOC’s refineries were operating at about 95 percent of their capacity in late April.
“We do not anticipate that our crude processing would be reduced to last year’s level of 65 percent-70 percent as inter-state vehicle movement is still there ... (the) economy is functioning,” he said.
Several states across India are under lockdown as the coronavirus crisis showed scant sign of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a record high, although the government of India, the world’s third largest oil importer and consumer, has not implemented a full lockdown.
State-run Bharat Petroleum Corp. has cut its crude imports by 1 million barrels in May and will reduce purchases by 2 million barrels in June, a company official said.
M.K. Surana, chairman of Hindustan Petroleum Corp, expects India’s fuel consumption in May to fall by 5 percent from April as the impact on driving and industrial production is not as severe as last year.
“This time it is not a full lockdown like last time,” he said.
“Sales in April was about 90 percent of March and we expect May could be about 5 percent lower than April.”


Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss
Updated 11 May 2021

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss
  • Aldar said on Monday it had achieved property sales of above 1 billion dirhams for the third consecutive quarter

DUBAI: UAE property buyers are seeking bigger villas and seafront locations as the post-pandemic real estate market puts a premium on space, according to the CEO of Abu Dhabi’s biggest developer.

Aldar Group CEO Talal Al-Dhiyebi also revealed a rapidly changing mix of investors acquiring the developer’s units with the number of Indian expatriate and female investors rising sharply.
Aldar on Monday reported an 80 percent jump in first quarter profit from a year earlier to 544 million dirhams ($148 million), beating analyst expectations.
“The story in Abu Dhabi and Dubai post-pandemic has been very similar where people are moving to prime sea-facing properties. After the lockdowns in Europe and the sub-continent we saw a strong push of people moving in,” said Al-Dhiyebi in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. “Our Indian buyers are now our second strongest buyers for the first time in Abu Dhabi. What is also interesting is that it is the first time we have crossed 30 percent female investors in off-plan sales since our inception. So the dynamics have changed. People are looking for opportunities. That has resulted in price increases in those prime and horizontal developments and we expect that to continue until the end of 2021.”
His remarks and the company’s underlying performance are the latest indicator of a shift in sentiment toward some segments of the UAE property market, despite a large overhang of completed and soon-to-be-completed new homes.
Aldar said on Monday it had achieved property sales of above 1 billion dirhams for the third consecutive quarter with its development business reporting a 47 percent year-on-year increase in revenues.


Royal Commission for AlUla says hospitality is a key investment area

Royal Commission for AlUla says hospitality is a key investment area
Updated 11 May 2021

Royal Commission for AlUla says hospitality is a key investment area

Royal Commission for AlUla says hospitality is a key investment area
  • “The Journey Through Time Masterplan” will include 5,000 hotel rooms, with 1,000 rooms ready for use by 2023

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia’s recently announced $15 billion masterplan for the development of AlUla will mean the arrival of some of the world’s most-famous hotel groups in the governorate, as hospitality has been identified as a key investment area in the plan.

“The Journey Through Time Masterplan” — the first in a series of plans for AlUla’s development, which the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) released on April 7 — will include 5,000 hotel rooms, with 1,000 rooms ready for use by 2023 and an overall target of 9,400 rooms by 2035 as part of a wider development strategy for AlUla.

The masterplan covers the core heritage area of AlUla and is being implemented in three phases until 2035, with the first phase set to be completed by 2023.

The total price of the development will be an estimated SR57 billion ($15 billion), out of which SR12 billion ($3.2 billion) is earmarked for primary infrastructure.

“Through The Journey Through Time Masterplan we are developing AlUla’s potential as a destination, a global cultural asset as well as a strong investment,” Wessam Lubbard, chief financial officer of the Royal Commission for AlUla, told Arab News.

“The masterplan presents diverse investment opportunities across multiple asset classes such as landmark cultural projects, social infrastructure, utilities and mobility, hospitality, commercial and residential projects,” he said. “In addition, we have de-risked all future investment by committing our $2 billion seed funding to critical projects in AlUla.”

The RCU believes hospitality is one of the main areas where AlUla’s potential can shine and where partnerships and projects are flourishing at a rapid rate. It is also a sector that can contribute greatly to Saudi Vision 2030 through sustainable growth within the local community.

“We want our hospitality offerings to be a true reflection of the welcoming and warm culture of the local community, rooted in respect for history and nature,” Philip Jones, the RCU’s chief destination management and marketing officer, told Arab News.

Hotels that already have a presence at AlUla, or are in the midst of building there, include Accor/Banyan Tree, Aman and Habitas. The RCU expects more names to be added to that list soon.

Aman is known for its exclusive properties, many of which are located off the beaten track in exotic destinations, while others can be found in some of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities, such as New York and Tokyo.

Aman’s AlUla Hegra Resort, set to be completed at the end of 2023, will be located in a secluded mountain valley in AlUla’s Nabataean Horizon district near the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hegra. It will comprise 40 luxury villas, a discovery center, a library partially carved into the rock, a subterranean spa and a multi-layered organic orchard celebrating the natural landscape.

“Our partners, including Habitas and Aman, as well as renowned architect Jean Nouvel, have radically different styles but one thing in common — an immersive approach to each destination,” Jones said. “By partnering with world-class brands that understand our landscape, we are creating a destination that puts the visitor experience, as well as the local culture, at the fore.”

The eco-friendly luxury resort chain Habitas is another significant entry to AlUla. The brand, whose flagship location is in Tulum, Mexico — is in the process of building a 100-room property in the desert canyons of AlUla’s Ashar Valley that will incorporate local influences through its music, spa therapies and even astronomy-driven yoga sessions. Importantly, the resort’s modular development will also result in minimal ecological impact.

Accor-run Banyan Tree is expanding its existing Ashar Resort in partnership with RCU within AlUla’s Nabatean Horizon district. The resort will add 47 new villas, bringing its total to 82, in addition to several new restaurants and a spa. The design of the resort is being sensitively devised to complement the striking natural landscape of the Ashar Valley, which is located 15 kilometers from Hegra.

Another great example of RCU’s dedication to and investment in AlUla’s heritage through tourism and hospitality is the building of the first-of-its-kind property by leading architecture firm Atelier Jean Nouvel, which was also responsible for the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.

The building aims to revive the 2,000-year-old architectural legacy of the ancient Nabataeans, thus bringing back to life an important part of AlUla’s past within a contemporary structure that pays heed to the surrounding ancient rock formations through its sensitively construed architecture and design.

Of principle importance to RCU is investment in the heritage assets and primary infrastructure of AlUla. It has already laid down $2 billion for development projects including the expansion of AlUla International Airport and improvement of security infrastructure, as well as developing key tourism assets including Ashar estate and the Maraya.

The Maraya, a multi-purpose venue that serves as a concert hall and is the world’s largest mirrored building, also calls the Ashar Valley home. Within its mirrored walls, the likes of Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Richie and Lang Lang have all performed during the Winter at Tantora Cultural Festival. The venue is also suitable for large-scale meetings and conferences and hosted the 41st GCC Summit in January 2021, which brought together leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council.


Saudi ports cargo volumes up 8 percent in April

Saudi ports cargo volumes up 8 percent in April
Updated 11 May 2021

Saudi ports cargo volumes up 8 percent in April

Saudi ports cargo volumes up 8 percent in April
  • Global trade has started to recover as consumer spending rebounds, a year after the pandemic

RIYADH: Saudi ports handled more than 609,000 containers during April, up more than 8.25 percent from a year earlier.
Ports overseen by the General Authority for Ports (Mawani) also handled more than 450,000 heads of live cattle, up by almost 89 percent over the same period, SPA reported.

Saudi Mawani handled 2.5 million containers during the first quarter of 2021, a 16 percent increase from a year earlier.

This represented the highest rate of container handling during a period of three months in the history of the Kingdom’s sea ports.

Global trade has started to recover as consumer spending rebounds, a year after the pandemic.