Rotana jumps ‘Al’ train

Period drama biggest Arab feature to date

Mideast outfit Rotana is set to produce the biggest-budgeted Arab film of all time.

The $8 million budget of “Al-Andalus,” an epic period drama set in Andalucia in the days before the Spanish Inquisition, beats previous record holder “Al-Qaeda” from rival Arab production house Good News Group. Written and directed by Khaled Youssef, and boasting an all-star Arab cast, “Al-Andalus” limns the age of Muslim rule in the Iberian peninsula when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived peacefully. Pic is looking at a 2007 shoot.

But first up for Rotana is English- and Arabic-language thriller “Seven Dead Hearts,” about a group of teens from America, Europe and the Middle East who travel to Egypt when disaster strikes. Lensing on the $4 million pic is set to begin by the end of the year. Rotana execs are also in negotiations with a U.S.-based company to share the production costs and shoot two versions of the film.

“Depending on how it works out, we might end up shooting a large portion in Morocco and releasing two cuts — one in Arabic for the Middle East and one in English for the international market. It makes sense,” said Ayman Al-Halawani, GM of Rotana’s film arm.

Owned by Saudi prince Walid Bin Talal, Rotana has emerged in recent years as one of the dominant Arab media companies with TV channels, a record label, film archives and retail outlets.

Its move into filmmaking just over a year ago has already proved highly profitable. The outfit produced 22 films in 2005, accounting for nearly 50% of the Arab market.

“Our plan for 2006 is to have 75% of the market. Prince Walid is heavily invested in entertainment entities such as Disney, Fox and Warners. He is very involved in Rotana and we intend to use our network in the west for large productions,” said Al-Halawani.

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