Frame by frame, Twofour54’s Noura al-Kaabi shows what UAE women can do

Around a year after her appointment as Twofour54 chief, Kaabi was behind the decision to get the media firm behind large-scale productions

Paul Crompton
Paul Crompton - Al Arabiya News
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Al Arabiya News is marking International Women’s Day, and the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration on gender equality, with a special series profiling leading women around the world, among them the UAE’s leading media production CEO, Noura al-Kaabi.

If you’re interested in making a movie, a TV show or even a video game in the UAE’s capital, you should know about Emirati power woman Noura al-Kaabi.

As the CEO of state-owned media freezone Twofour54, which aims to provide the infrastructure for media industries to thrive, Kaabi’s ethos has helped bring several international productions to Abu Dhabi, including “Fast and the Furious 7,” where supercars screech through the streets of the capital, Bollywood action flick Bang Bang, children’s series Sesame Street and smash-hit UK motoring show Top Gear.

Last year, when the producers of the latest iteration of the sci-fi Star Wars franchise wanted to set key scenes in Abu Dhabi’s seemingly endless deserts, Kaabi’s know-how proved vital.

The Hollywood production team needed a road to be built in the middle of the vast, barren Liwa desert – and on a tight deadline.

“We had maybe less than three weeks to build the road,” Kaabi recalled. “So we were running around, getting contractors, trying to make sure that we build the road for it to be ready for the set. When we got there, we [were told by authorities] that you can’t touch the sand, unless you go back and a get a permit from the environmental authority in Abu Dhabi.”

After urgent talks with the environmental agency, a solution was found.

“So the next day, at 5 am, one of the guys in the agency said that yes, you can build the road, and they changed the formula to a [different] kind of substance that [was] used to build the road in order not to endanger the sand.

“I love the fact that it’s in the middle of nowhere, yet still we paid attention to the sand,” she added.

Although the $200 million flick won’t hit cinemas for another eight months, the desert’s rolling dunes can be clearly sighted at the beginning of the 90 second teaser trailer.

Around a year after her appointment as Twofour54 chief, Kaabi was behind the decision to get the media firm – which also offers media training and talent development – behind large-scale productions.

Paying tribute to the youthful 35-year-old Emirati’s success are certificates, trophies and the full-size replica of chattering Star Wars robot C3PO in Kaabi’s office, located in the sprawling Twofour54 complex on the outskirts of the UAE’s capital.

Kaabi also regularly features on annual lists measuring regional power and influence by magazines including Forbes, CEO and Arabian Business.

Other than facilitating foreign projects, Kaabi works to make sure that Emiratis themselves have a hand in the making of imported productions. And in her field, “the majority are women,” she said.

According to the media boss, one young Emirati women who worked on the set of Star Wars went on to do a stint at the UK’s Pinewood Studios, where movie franchises such as “James Bond,” “Superman” and “Harry Potter” were filmed.

On fostering local talent, passion is everything, said Kaabi. “It’s an industry that you need to know that the individual is passionate about, they won’t care what are my timing hours, because they will end up filming at 4 am in the morning.”

As well as her set task of fostering the capital’s creative industries and working with Emirati women to do the same, Kaabi also serves on the Federal National Council (FNC), the UAE’s consultative body.

But as women make up only around a quarter of council members, do they lack a representational voice?

“I don’t think the voice is about the number of women, I think it’s about what the women will bring to the table of the FNC,” she said.

“I believe that each one of us have certain beliefs, certain objectives. I think that we have a fair opportunity to voice our thoughts. When we raise our hands, everything is recorded, everything is documented, we debate, and we debate a lot, and the debate takes more a serious run when we’re inside committees.”

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