Middle East fest set to unspool in October

This article was updated on May 19, 2007.

Abu Dhabi is establishing a government film fund that may be the long-awaited holy grail of Arab film financing.

Fund will be administered by the newly formed Abu Dhabi Film Commission, one of the various initiatives announced at Cannes that also includes the inaugural Middle East Intl. Film Festival, set to unspool in Abu Dhabi Oct. 12-17.

The festival will act as a springboard for organizers to bring in cream of the investors from the global film biz, including bankers, hedge-fund managers and insurance companies. The film fund has no set limit, but would be “unlimited for the right project,” said Nashwa al Ruweini, fest’s director of operations.

Abu Dhabi initiatives were announced by al Ruweini, Abu Dhabi film commission prexy Abed Awad, Anglo-Yemeni helmer Bader Ben Hirsi and Abu Dhabi royal family member Sheik Sultan bin Tahnoon al Nahyan.

“There are a lot of stories in the Arab world we can tell the whole world; our history, what we are about,” said Sheik Sultan. “I think we can capture the imagination of the whole world if we present it in the right way.”

Recent months have seen rumors abounding of various Arab film funds based in the oil-rich Gulf. Region has been particularly attractive of late given it is awash with cash following prolonged period of high oil prices.

“We think there is a tremendous opportunity and areas which can bring a big return from the film industry,” said Sheik Sultan. “If we convince the businessmen in the region there is a return, then they will jump in and invest. The region is enjoying a tremendous boom.”

Creation of the Abu Dhabi fund, which will also welcome private investment from Arab and Western businessmen, may set back efforts by the likes of producers John Heyman and Malek Akkad to set up their own mega Arab fund.

Abu Dhabi fund will provide coin for local and Arab projects, as well as international projects. It has already given $10 million to Ben Hirsi’s new feature “Arabian Sands,” about the life of British explorer Wilfred Thesiger, who traveled through the Empty Quarter of Arabia in the 1940s. An additional $8.5 million has been allocated to an untitled co-production with Canada.

“We hear a lot about Dubai and it is a success story by all means,” said Sheik Sultan. “What we are doing complements what is happening in Dubai but we are looking at film from a different perspective. We are trying to create an industry by bringing in all the financial players in one place. We are trying also to encourage the local and regional film industry to flourish and learn from the international industry players.”

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