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To the rescue!
Why is the region rushing to the aid of the embattled movie business?
September 7, 2008 1:41 by kippreport
Abu Dhabi’s announcement last week that it would be investing over $1bn in up to 40 feature film projects over the next five years seems to put a stamp of credibility on the emirate’s oft-stated ambition to become a major player in the film and entertainment world.
It’s remarkable how little time has passed since local efforts to appear Hollywood-savvy registered an 11 on the you-can’t-be-serious scale: In 2006, Dubai’s chattering classes let loose howls of derision upon the “news,” reported in government tabloid Emirates Today, that Modhesh, the reviled* mascot of Dubai Summer Surprises shopping festival, had drawn the interest of top-tier Hollywood producers to star in his own feature film. Dubai bloggers went to town on that one.
Abu Dhabi’s film ambition draws few such guffaws (at least none that Kipp has been privy too), although we noted last week that cinema has become an increasingly risky business in the last few years – a bit like investing in football teams, in fact.
The announcement of Imagenation Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi’s the new venture, made the front page of London’s Financial Times.
The New York Times covered it, too, but seemed to pooh-pooh Abu Dhabi’s track record right at the start, pointing out that its joint venture with Warner Bros has so far produced only one planned projects: “Shorts,” a family adventure film directed by Robert Rodriquez and starring William H. Macy. The US daily also called attention to the tricky politics of the deal: Americans don’t tend to like their cultural output tainted by dirty foreign money, especially from the Middle East.
It wasn’t the first such deal and it probably won’t be the last. In November, Egypt-based asset management company Borak Holding invested $550 million into Insomnia Media Group, an indie TV and film producer and talent service provider based in Hollywood. The two companies are collaborating on a $70 million war epic about a 12th century Arab general. Insomnia founder Bret Saxon said at the time that foreign investors like Borak “are more aggressive and easier to deal with” than U.S. private equity firms, who have grown skittish after sinking some $10 billion into the film industry since 2004.
It seems that with cash drying up for film investment worldwide, the Middle East is now seen as the only place on earth where financiers are brave enough – or perhaps foolish enough – to invest in film. In June, veteran film executive Mark Gill, former president of Warner Independent Pictures and a veteran art-house film executive, received what Screen International called “substantial investment” from Sheikh Walid al-Ibrahim, chairman of MBC, to help start his new Hollywood mini-studio The Film Department. Gill was recently heard telling the L.A. Film Festival that “yes, the sky really is falling” on the global film biz.
* Last count of the Death to Modhesh group on Facebook: 960 members.