Abu Dhabi fund invests in Participant Media

When Abu Dhabi launched its $1 billion production arm, Imagenation, on the eve of September’s Toronto Film Fest, the move was an emphatic statement of intent at a time when the indie film biz was still reeling from the closure of U.S. specialty divisions, a product glut and the worsening credit crisis.

Since then, Imagenation’s chief exec, Ed Borgerding, a former Disney TV Intl. exec veep, has inked a $250 million production pact with Jeff Skoll’s Participant Media to make up to 18 feature films over the next five years.

That announcement was followed on Oct. 11 with news of a $100 million deal with National Geographic to develop, finance and produce 10-15 feature films with a budget range between $50 million-$60 million over the next five years. The Imagenation-National Geographic deal will focus on real-life storylines about humans rather than the nature projects that National Geographic has been famous for. The newly formed joint venture is likely to make projects in the vein of “Ghandhi,” “The Killing Fields” and “Syriana.”

Both deals go some way to assuage fears that Middle East investors would avoid edgy, political fare.

“The deal with National Geographic continues our strategy of building relationships with the world’s leading media companies,” Borgerding notes. “This partnership supports our aim to produce award-winning films that are commercially successful and appealing to diverse cultures around the globe.”

The Imagenation production banner also will work in conjunction with the newly launched multibillion-dollar media zone TwoFour54, which aims to turn Abu Dhabi into a world-class hub of content creation over the next five to 10 years. TwoFour54 — its name refers to Abu Dhabi’s geographical coordinates — will include studios, post-production facilities and training academies with a view to establish a sustainable film and TV industry in Abu Dhabi and the Middle East. At AFM, Imagenation execs are set to announce more deals with U.S. and international production companies.