Partners discuss TV, digital, movie distribution

BERLIN

In its second high-profile deal in a key and expanding overseas film region announced in just one week, Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media is teaming with the Doha Film Institute to jointly create a $100 million revolving fund to finance development and production for 12-16 feature films over the next five years.

The slate’s films will all be in English. The partners plan to make “a wide range of films across diverse genres, aimed at the global market,” said Participant Media’s Jim Berk.

Films will be in the vein of Participant-backed U.S. small town set “Promised Land,” from Gus Van Sant and with Matt Damon, and Tate Taylor’s Mississippi-set “The Help,” with Emma Stone.

The $100 million revolving fund will cover the cost of all the slate’s films, Berk added.

Deal was announced Wednesday by Berk and DFI CEO Abdulaziz Al-Khater.

The film fund is just part, however, of far broader talks between Participant and DFI.

The partners are exploring a joint venture to provide content for Participant’s new TV channel, set to launch August.

Further discussions turn on a distribution outlet for DFI’s productions via Participant’s media interests in the U.S., and in international.

Also on the table: the creation of an Arabic version of TakePart.com, Participant’s on-line division and social action network, creating Middle-Eastern based content in Arabic and English for distribution around the world.

“Conversations started around the film fund, but quickly moved on to how to create a more encompassing multiplatform relationship, leveraging our activities in digital and in TV,” said Berk.

“We have platforms, DFI has a wealth of material and distribution capability in the Arab world, where we have none,” he added.

To handle such broad-based collaboration, Participant will establish a Middle East Participant branch, based out of DFI’s Qatar headquarters.

Al-Khater said: “We are delighted to partner with Participant Media, a company that aims to finance and produce films that are both commercially successful and socially relevant — a vision that is very much shared at DFI.”

The deal was negotiated by DFI’s head of film financing, Paul Miller, and Hal Sadoff, DFI’s advisor/consultant on behalf of DFI, and Jeff Ivers, chief operating officer, Participant Media.

Participant and DFI are currently co-financing, along with other parties, an animated feature film adaptation of Khalil Gibran’s “The Prophet.” In production, it is skedded for release next year.

Last Thursday, Participant Media unveiled Participant PanAmerica, which will finance 10-12 movies over the next five years produced by three of Latin America’s top-flight players — Mexico’s Canana Films, Colombia’s Dynamo and Chile’s Fabula.

Participant also opened a 17-person New York office this week.

“Participant’s aim of being a global media company, doing what we do but also being in other regions of the world is really starting to crystallize,” Berk said.

“We believe that when you go to other parts of the world, you need a partner.”

Europe, India, China will be Participant’s next target areas over the next five years, Berk said

Founded by Skoll in 2004, to create movies, TV, publishing and digital content focusing on issues which shape the world, Participant Media is screening two films at Berlin: Gus Van Sant’s “Promised Land,” written by and starring Matt Damon and John Krasinski, and docu-feature “State 194,” featuring Palestine’s prime minister Salam Fayyad.

DFI co-financed films include Cherien Dabis’ Sundance opener “May in the Summer,” Nadine Labaki’s Cannes-player “Where Do We Go Now,” Mira Nair’s Venice opener “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” and Rachid Bouchareb’s “Just Like a Woman.”

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