Company kicks off move into film biz

DOHA, Qatar — Qatari media company Al Noor Holdings used Sunday’s closing of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival to announce its launch into the movie biz with a $150 million feature about the Prophet Mohammed, to be produced by Barrie Osborne (“Lord of the Rings,” “The Matrix”).

Osborne and Al Noor execs are in discussions with a number of studios, distributors and tenpercenteries about boarding the English-language project.

Al Noor thus becomes the latest link between Hollywood and the Mideast, where companies are anxious to provide work for local filmmakers and to offer a more positive portrayal of Islam around the world.

One of the challenges of this project, however, is that Islamic tradition dictates that neither Prophet Mohammed nor direct members of his family can be depicted. Presumably the film will show events surrounding his life and Mohammed’s effect on those around him. The narrative will run from the years from before his birth through to his death.

Muslim cleric and TV personality Sheik Yousef al-Qaradawi will serve as a technical consultant.

“He was a profound genius who founded a religion whose name in Islam signifies peace and reconciliation,” Osborne said. “This is what our film will aspire to do.”

The project is in development and does not have a director or cast attached yet.

Arab-American filmmaker Moustafa Akkad previously tackled the same subject in 1976 pic “The Message,” starring Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas.

The announcement comes only days after Al Noor launched a $200 million revolving film fund to invest in Hollywood and international projects (Daily Variety, Oct. 30). The first projects from the fund are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

Tribeca co-founder Robert De Niro jetted in for the Doha Tribeca fest Sunday to announce a year-round series of education initiatives designed to boost Qatar’s film infrastructure. The initiatives include screenwriting and directing labs, as well as a reciprocal exchange program between Doha and New York for aspiring filmmakers.

“The festival is not just about four days,” said fest exec director Amanda Palmer. “It is a year-round commitment. The start of these bold educational initiatives is a major step toward welcoming new voices to the global film community and to creating a film industry in Qatar in the long term.”

The labs are slated to begin in March and will be evaluated by a committee led by Palmer and Tribeca Enterprises chief exec Geoff Gilmore.

The exchange program will bring 10 budding filmmakers from the Qatari community to the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival in New York and 10 aspiring filmmakers from New York to the 2010 fest in Qatar.

The closing-night ceremony also saw director Liz Mermin’s doc “Team Qatar,” about Qatar’s first national high school debate team, win the fest’s audience prize for best film.

Palestinian helmer Najwa Najjar’s “Pomegranates and Myrrh” took the aud nod for Arab film.

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