Media industry pays tribute to Tim Smythe, Dubai’s ‘pioneer’ filmmaker

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Tim Smythe, the film producer who lured big-name movies such as Mission: Impossible to shoot in Dubai, has died aged 54.

Friends and colleagues paid tribute to Smythe, a pioneer in the UAE’s fledgling film business, who had 25 years’ experience working on feature films, TV dramas, commercials and documentaries.

As founder and chief executive of the Dubai-based production firm Filmworks, Smythe helped attract films such as Syriana, The Kingdom and Djinn to be shot in the UAE.

Smythe also helped lure Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol to be part-shot in Dubai, in what was a major coup for both Filmworks and the UAE movie industry as a whole. One memorable scene in the film saw actor Tom Cruise perform a dizzying stunt at the top of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

Jamal al-Sharif, managing director of Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City, and chairman of the Dubai Film and TV Commission, described Smythe’s death as a “big loss” for the industry.

“He had belief,” said al-Sharif, who first starting working with Smythe in 2005. “It’s sad to have someone who really cared, to just leave.”

Smythe was recognized internationally, and was closely involved in the Mission: Impossible shoot in Dubai, said al-Sharif.

“He played a big role in making it happen. At that time we didn’t have anyone else who could do it,” he said.

Smythe was credited with “kick starting the feature film production industry in the country”, Filmworks said in a statement.

“With regret and deep sorrow we, the Filmworks family say goodbye to our CEO Tim Smythe who passed away peacefully on Monday night in Dubai,” the company said.

“Apart from being a consummate and ethical professional, he was a strong advocate of attracting top international talent while at the same time nurturing and cultivating local ones. He was a mentor to many and a friend to many more and thus he will be deeply missed.”

Smythe also worked on City of Life, which is credited as one of the UAE’s first home-grown feature films.

Ali Mostafa, director of the film, paid tribute to Smythe on Twitter.

“Tim Smythe, the UAE's true pioneer in creating a film industry. A mentor I considered family. My main partner in #CityofLife,” Mostafa wrote. “I promise you Tim, I will continue your torch. A big loss for the UAE. A big loss for film… The man who was ‘UAE film’.”

Smythe began his career in his native South Africa, before relocating to the Middle East in 1993. He established Filmworks in 1998, and it became one of most prominent production companies in the region, with satellite offices in cities including Los Angeles, Cape Town and Beirut.

Shivani Pandya, managing director of the Dubai International Film Festival, said Smythe “put the UAE on the international film radar” by attracting studios to shoot in Dubai.

“Tim was a wonderful human being, genuine, warm, intelligent, and truly dedicated to the film industry both in the UAE and beyond. When I met Tim in 2002 I was instantly struck by his passion for building the foundations of a film industry in the UAE, a vision that he worked so tirelessly to achieve,” said Pandya.

“For those who were lucky enough to experience the advice, support and wisdom that Tim so generously gave are considerably better off because of it and I for one am truly grateful. A heart break to all us who knew and loved him, the industry has lost a great man and we will miss him dearly.”

While Filmworks facilitated the production of numerous films in the region, Smythe will also be remembered as a driving force behind the UAE’s film industry as a whole.

He was particularly vocal in calling for government incentives to help encourage international studios to shoot movies in the UAE, as is common in more mature film markets. Last year both Dubai and Abu Dhabi announced financial schemes to help lure more productions.

“RIP Tim Smythe,” wrote Twitter user David Shepherd. “This man has done the most to try and build a commercial film industry in the UAE.”

Several others in the film industry turned to Twitter to pay tribute to Smythe.

“The UAE film scene lost the key player,” wrote the UAE filmmaker Nawaf Al-Janahi. “May his soul rest in peace.”