Confab focuses on Middle Eastern talent

Abu Dhabi opened the second edition of the Circle, its annual confab dedicated to financing, production and training Middle East film talent, Monday with Fox chairman Jim Gianopulos delivering the keynote speech on the future of the international film biz and helmer McG treating everyone to a good dose of McLovin’.

McG, there to give a masterclass, also preemed a sneak peek of footage from Christian Bale starrer “Terminator Salvation.” The helmer let slip that Arnold Schwarzenegger has a cameo. Lensing wrapped three weeks ago, with Warner Bros. set to release the pic in the U.S. next summer.

“It’s coming out against ‘Night at the Museum 2.’ Jim, I’m encouraging you to move your date,” McG teased the Fox chief.

The helmer also invited Gianopulos, helmer Spike Lee and producer Kathleen Kennedy onstage during his presentation.

He got commitments from Gianopulos and Kennedy to join him in bringing 10 aspiring Emirati filmmakers to the U.S. to gain work experience, much to the delight of the audience.

“Film is a global language,” McG later told Variety. “Let’s get some of the great stories from this region and tell them to the whole world. The world is ready.” Earlier in the day, Gianopulos kicked off proceedings by laying out the challenges facing the global film biz, particularly in light of the U.S. banking meltdown.

“This will affect all aspects of our business and our lives until they sort themselves out,” he said. “Fortunately, we’re not in the derivatives business; we are in the business of dreams and entertainment.”

The Fox chairman later confirmed that the studio would continue to expand in the Middle East. It launched local-language production unit Fox Intl. Prods. in May and inked a multipicture deal with Indian producer Vipul Amrutlal Shah on Saturday, just weeks after setting up pan-Asian Fox Star Studios (Daily Variety, Oct. 6).

Fox already has a longstanding relationship with Saudi Prince Al Waleed bin Talal’s multimedia titan Rotana. The prince has been a significant investor in Fox parent News Corp. for some years and this year launched two Fox-branded English-language satcasters in the Arab world as a joint venture. Rotana distributes Fox’s films on DVD in the Middle East.

“There’s certainly going to be an expansion of the Rotana relationship,” Gianopulos told Variety without divulging specifics. “This region is fascinating and it’s certainly worthy of a lot of attention.”

The Circle attracted a heavyweight lineup of U.S. and international film industry execs. Also in town for the four-day event, which closes Thursday, are ICM’s head of international and independent Hal Sadoff, Hyde Park Films chairman and chief exec Ashok Amritraj, Endeavor’s head of independent Graham Taylor, Quinta Communications chairman Tarak Ben Ammar, Yari Film Group prexy Bob Yari and a host of others.

In a glittering ceremony at the lavish Shangri-La Hotel, Lee gave out awards to the Circle’s 10 Middle Eastern helmers chosen as part of the Cloeween Connection, showcasing the region’s most talented filmmakers.

“We have the talent here,” said Circle topper Adrienne Briggs. “Now we have the means and ways to show them to the rest of the world.”

Abu Dhabi has fast-tracked its attempts to become a global film player, launching last year its inaugural Middle East Film Festival and inking a multibillion-dollar multimedia deal with Warner Bros. In September the Abu Dhabi Media Co. launched a

$1 billion production banner, Imagenation, and followed it days later by announcing a $250 million production pact with Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media.

More Imagenation announcements are expected during the second Middle East Film Festival, which unspools in the Emirate for 10 days beginning Friday.

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