Will Smith tackles Mideast mission

Red Pearl to distribute films throughout region

Overbrook Entertainment’s Will Smith, James Lassiter and Ken Stovitz have teamed with Diana Jenkins’ D Media to launch Red Pearl Pictures, which will distribute Western films throughout the Middle East.

The new company will have offices in both Los Angeles and the Middle East, and has launched a search for a chief executive. CAA is advising the startup.

Overbook and D Media confirmed the launch of the venture, but offered no specifics beyond a goal to tap into the growing demand for entertainment in such Middle Eastern markets as Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Overbrook has already shown global entrepreneurial ambitions, as the company made a deal with Ronnie Screwvala, chief of India’s UTV, and Sony to produce films meant to play in the Indian marketplace.

The venture is a new wrinkle in Hollywood’s relationship with the Middle East, which has been more about raising coin than in exploiting box office potential. The Middle East has become a hotbed for Hollywood coin — most recently evidenced by Abu Dhabi’s $1 billion production arm Imagenation inking separate $250 million deals with Participant Media and Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment. By comparison, the theatrical marketplace in the region remains limited.

While the Arab world boasts a population of some 300 million — more than two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30 and eager for commercial entertainment — censorship, piracy and underdeveloped infrastructure have so far hampered efforts by distribs and exhibs to maximize the region’s true box office potential.

Smith’s “Hancock,” for example, grossed approximately $4.5 million in the Arab world, a good-sized draw, but small compared to other offshore territories. “Quantum of Solace” has so far grossed about $3.5 million.

Red Pearl Pictures joins a number of key Mideastern distribs that have existing deals with the U.S. studios and indies.

The venture will be helped by Jenkins’ strong relationships in the region. She is the Bosnian-born wife of Barclays Bank’s Roger Jenkins, who runs the U.K. bank’s Middle East business. Based in Malibu, she is a partner in the swimsuit company Melissa Obadash.She has been credited with helping facilitate a multibillion-dollar infusion of cash that came to Barclays from the Middle East.

A recognized figure on the social circuit, she is close friends with Sheik Hamad bin Jassem, the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, and his wife. Sheik Hamad is widely considered one of the visionaries behind Qatar’s economic and political emergence in the region, and was a key investor behind a recent $8.6 billion capital injection into Barclays Bank.

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, has started to reveal its own ambitions to become a global film player.

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