Al-Sabah has Vision for Arab film biz

Plans include film studio, developing slate of films

Kuwait’s Sheikha Al Zein Al-Sabah is swapping the comforts of the royal palace for the rough-and-tumble world of the Arab film biz.

Al-Sabah, a member of Kuwait’s ruling family, is looking to turn her Eagle Vision Media Group into a home for Arab filmmakers hoping to break into the international market.

In addition to building a film studio in Kuwait with both production and post-production facilities, which will be ready by the middle of 2010, Al-Sabah is developing a slate of pics to appeal to both Arab and Western auds.

The youthful royal is also putting together a film fund that could eventually total $50 million — dedicated entirely to Arab filmmakers.

“Working in the film industry can be a bit taboo in this part of the world, but I see it as part of my social contribution,” Al-Sabah told Variety. “We need to tell the world Arab stories and show people that they exist. We also need to show Arab filmmakers that it’s possible for their stories to travel internationally. ”

Since launching in 2007, Al Sabah’s Eagle Vision Media Group has co-produced Imax doc “Journey to Mecca” with National Geographic prexy Jake Eberts as well as Cherien Dabis’ feature helming debut “Amreeka.”

Latter pic, which bows in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight sidebar, was produced with the help of significant pre-buys from Saudi Prince Waleed bin Talal’s film shingle Rotana as well as pay TV platform Showtime Arabia. It tells the story of a struggling Palestinian single mother who escapes life in Ramallah to immigrate to America.

That focus on the human rather than political aspects of Middle Eastern life is a key part of Al-Sabah’s vision.

“There are a lot of great, lighthearted stories out there by young Arab filmmakers which are still socially relevant,” said Al-Sabah.

Born and raised in Kuwait, she first dreamed of becoming a director. After graduating from Boston U and then USC, where she earned a masters in filmmaking, she worked for ABC’s “World News Tonight” as an assistant producer. It was only after returning to Kuwait that she turned her hand to producing when she saw the lack of opportunities for the local filmmaking community.

Al-Sabah launched her company without the financial backing of her family and has lacked the coin to advance some of her most ambitious plans. The current economic downturn, however, may be a blessing in disguise.

With the once booming Gulf real estate sector heavily affected, investors are turning to the growing media industry. Even Al-Sabah’s family is investing in the studio.

“It has taken some time to make people understand the importance of what we want to do but hopefully the success we’re having with ‘Amreeka’ around the world will help us convince them,” said Al-Sabah.