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MBC gets into the movie business

Founder of Arab network pours money into Film Dept.

LONDON — The Arab world’s biggest TV net is getting into the movie business.

Execs at MBC, the first private Arab satcaster to launch in 1991 and still the region’s most popular, are unveiling initiatives that could see it become a film powerhouse.

MBC founder and chairman Sheik Waleed al-Ibrahim, who is related to the Saudi royal family, has invested an unspecified sum in Mark Gill and Neil Sacker’s production and finance shingle, the Film Dept.

Al-Ibrahim will sit on the board but will not have any direct say in the projects developed and produced.

Al-Ibrahim is also developing his own stand-alone film unit. The shingle, which will come under the umbrella of his multimedia titan MBC Group, will produce five to six Arabic-language features a year.

The projects will likely push subjects with cross-cultural tie-ins with auds in East and West. The projects will be released theatrically in the Mideast, as opposed to being made-for-TV fare, and MBC execs are hoping to sell the films to international distribs.

MBC’s film group will likely launch officially by the end of 2008. “It will be a content fund with a slate of five-to-six movies on which we could also seek equity participation from other investors,” says one MBC exec.

While the venture is a strategic shift for MBC, the net has also teamed with the Dubai Intl. Film Festival, set to unspool Dec. 9-16, for a short film competition aimed at UAE students.

The Movies in Motion competish will give budding filmmakers the opportunity to make their own two-minute short. The winner will be aired on MBC2, the net’s 24-hour movie channel, giving the winner a potential audience of 40 million people.

“As the leading movie channel in the Middle East, MBC2 is perfectly placed to nurture, recognize and support new talent in our specialist industry,” says marketing manager Andrew Maskell. “This is just the first phase in our long-term commitment to mobile movie making.”

The initiative is being held in partnership with telco Nokia.

MBC has launched a mini-mobile film school to tie in to the competish, with a van of film biz professionals visiting 20 schools and universities across the UAE to teach students the fundamentals in filmmaking ahead of the deadline.

The competish will eventually be opened to contestants from across the Arab world, with a dedicated website set to launch in time for the Dubai fest. All the best entries will be posted online.

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