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

Smythe was a pioneer in the UAE’s fledgling film business, with 25 years’ experience working on feature films, TV dramas, commercials and documentaries.

As founder and chief executive of the production firm Filmworks, Smythe helped attract films such asSyriana to be shot in Dubai, as well as The Kingdom and Djinn in Abu Dhabi.

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. In one memorable scene of the film, actor Tom Cruise performed 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,” al-Sharif, who first starting working with Smythe in 2005, told Al Arabiya. “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 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 establishing Filmworks in 1998. He built up the business to be one of the biggest in the region, with satellite offices across the world, including in Los Angeles, Cape Town, Doha and Beirut.

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.”

Other film executives paid tribute to Smythe on Twitter.

“Tim Smythe passed away last night! A great person & mind. The UAE film scene lost the key player,” wrote the UAE filmmaker Nawaf Al-Janahi. “May his soul rest in peace.”


By Ben Flanagan