Qatar joins Middle East movie gold rush

DOHA, Qatar — Qatar is joining the Middle East movie gold rush.

Qatari media group Alnoor Holdings has launched the $200 million Alnoor fund to finance and produce up to 15 features for the international market in the next five years.

Alnoor Holdings, which has been building up its investment in the Arab media biz in recent years, will invest $40 million into the fund directly, with the remaining coin coming from private investors across the Gulf region. The fund will be aimed squarely at Hollywood and international projects.

Alnoor Holdings is consulting Entertainment Capital Advisers on which projects to invest in. Fund managers hope to finance ethically based, family-friendly projects. They will likely avoid pics that deal explicitly with sex, politics or other contentious subjects.

“If you want to invest in the film industry, the best place to invest is Hollywood,” Alnoor Holdings chairman Ahmed Al-Mustafawi Al-Hashemi told Daily Variety. “They have the established business center. No business is without risk but we have been studying this for some time now and we believe that a 10% return on our investment is available. We believe in this business.”

Alnoor execs plan to announce the first greenlit project in the coming days.

The announcement coincided with Thursday’s launch of the inaugural Doha Tribeca Film Festival. The four-day event is a partnership between the Qatar Museums Authority, dedicated to developing cultural initiatives in the country, and Tribeca co-founders Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal and Craig Hatkoff.

The fest is the brainchild of Sheikha Mayassa Bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, chair of the Qatar Museums Authority Board of Trustees and daughter of the emir of Qatar, and is led by exec director Amanda Palmer, head of entertainment at Al-Jazeera English.

Attendees at fest’s lavish opening night included helmers Martin Scorsese and Mira Nair, whose pic “Amelia” opened the fest, as well as Arab film luminaries such as Egyptian thesp Adel Imam and Palestinian director Elia Suleiman.

Qatar has kept a low profile in the film biz until now, while the neighboring Gulf emirates of Dubai and Abu Dhabi have bowed their own high-profile fests. Abu Dhabi has also made a series of multimillion-dollar financing deals with U.S. banners through its $1 billion production arm Imagenation.

That now looks set to change with the arrival of Qatar’s fest and fund. Having already turned Qatar into a TV biz player thanks to Doha-based Al-Jazeera, local execs aim to make the tiny Gulf state a major film player.

Qatar, the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, has mushroomed in size in recent years under its ambitious leader, Emir Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, particularly in terms of education projects. The emir’s wife, Sheikha Mouza, supports Education City, envisaged as a world-class center of learning. Building a film biz is seen as part of that overall push.

While Imagenation has inked a variety of deals, including a $250 million pact with Participant Media, a $100 million joint fund with National Geographic Entertainment and a $10 million development deal with Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, execs from the Alnoor fund will invest project by project.

“In the past, investors in this region used to put their money into shares and real estate thinking they were more solid,” Al-Hashemi said. “Now investors have seen this is not the case. We have good financial resources here in the Gulf, and we believe there are good opportunities to invest in the film market.”

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