Execs negotiate to start film festival in emirate

Executives from Sundance, which kicks off Thursday, are in advanced negotiations with Abu Dhabi-based investment org Mubadala to launch a film festival in the oil-rich emirate.

Discussions have been ongoing for months. Reps from both Sundance and Mubadala were remaining tight-lipped about the details for any potential deal, but sources confirmed that the two sides have reached a critical stage in the negotiations.

The initial plan for the Sundance-Abu Dhabi pact would have seen the startup fest take place in April. Given the amount of time needed to organize a startup, this now appears unlikely, particularly as the global economic downturn is giving Middle Eastern investors — even ones as deep-pocketed as Mubadala — cause for pause in terms of inking new projects.

Any potential deal also brings into question the fate of Abu Dhabi’s Middle East Intl. film fest, whose second edition unspooled in October. It is unclear whether it would remain as a stand-alone fest in the event of a Sundance deal or be integrated into the Park City-affiliated one.

The Sundance-Abu Dhabi joint venture would rep the second major U.S. fest to launch in the Middle East. Tribeca inked a deal with the Qatar Museums Authority in November to bow a fest in capital city Doha.

Pact, the first time Tribeca has linked up with an international partner, is seen as more than a simple licensing deal. Execs from Tribeca and Qatar will work to help develop a film infrastructure in the Gulf country, which is the world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas.

Inaugural edition of the Tribeca Film Festival Doha will take place in November.

Sundance already has a tradition of working with Middle Eastern filmmakers as a result of its Jordan-based screenwriters lab. Launched in 2005, the lab provides an opportunity for filmmakers from the region to develop their work under the guidance of Sundance-appointed creative advisors.

Mubadala is one of Abu Dhabi’s major investment bodies. Led by chief exec Khaldoun Mubarak, who is respected in the region and beyond both for his youth and ambition, the org inked an $8 billion deal last year with General Electric, the parent company of NBC Universal. Though that deal had little to do with media, it was a firm indicator of its ambition to be a global investment player.

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