Imagenation, NatGeo kick off deal with 'Back'

Abu Dhabi’s film division Imagenation and National Geographic Entertainment have kicked off the $100 million fund they established in October by making a significant equity investment in the Peter Weir-directed drama “The Way Back.”

The deal kicks off a plan for Imagenation and NGE to develop, produce, finance and acquire 10-15 films over the next five years.

Imagenation and National Geographic become co-producers of “The Way Back” with Exclusive Media Group and Spitfire Pictures.

Currently shooting in Bulgaria, “The Way Back” stars Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan and Jim Sturgess. Pic is based on Slavomir Rawicz’s novel “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” about a small group of prisoners who escape a Siberian gulag in 1940 (Daily Variety, Oct. 16).

“It’s just the kind of story we envisaged when we formed our relationship with National Geographic,” said Imagenation chief exec Ed Borgerding. “It’s a real story of human achievement against the odds and nature.”

Said National Geographic Films president Adam Leipzig: “This was the perfect first film for our fund, a movie that National Geographic is proud to have its brand on.”

Under Leipzig, NGF chairman Jake Eberts and National Geographic Global Media president Tim Kelly, the company will make two or three films each year. It will also acquire four to five films to be distributed through its own company, which last released “U2 3D.”

“Imagenation and National Geographic certainly fit the economic jigsaw puzzle that goes into making these pictures, but the branding opportunity was also important to us,” Exclusive co-CEO Nigel Sinclair said. “The National Geographic organization has enormous worldwide reach, and it’s already helped come up with promotional ideas to present the film.”

Exclusive Films Distribution is handling worldwide sales and distribution. On the domestic distribution front, Sinclair said the company is engaged in “various discussions we are excited about.”

Weir will deliver the picture in November.

Imagenation’s involvement with “The Way Back” is likely to be the first of many, as the shingle, which was launched in September with $1 billion in financing from the government of Abu Dhabi, ramps up its activities.

The company will shortly announce its first projects to emanate from its $250 million fund with Participant Media, launched in September. A further $250 million pact with Ashok Armitraj’s Hyde Park Entertainment, inked last November, is also likely to start greenlighting its first projects shortly.

Abu Dhabi also has Robert Rodriguez’s “Shorts,” which was produced and financed through its multimedia partnership with Warner Bros., currently in post-production.

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