Moneyman to the rescue

Hani Farsi helps out films in need

LONDON — London-based Saudi maven Hani Farsi is fast developing a reputation as the go-to-guy for film execs in a crisis.

When French distributor Jean Labadie found himself ousted as director general of Bac Films in November 2007, Farsi stepped in as the main investor in his new sales, distribution and production outfit Le Pacte the following year.

Similarly, when Palestinian director Elia Suleiman saw the financing for his project “The Time That Remains” collapse only weeks before production was set to start, it was Farsi who put up $1.7 million of the $5.6 million budget.

Suleiman’s pic, an autobiographical tale about a Palestinian family from 1948 through the present day, eventually made its bow to near universal critical acclaim at the recently wrapped Cannes Film Festival.

“Elia’s film was such an important story and I really wanted it to have a Middle Eastern backer,” says Farsi. “We were introduced by a mutual friend, I read the script, loved it and went to Paris the next day to meet him and we made the deal.”

In addition to investing coin in the project, Farsi also acquired French rights from Gallic outfit Wild Bunch, which is handling worldwide sales.

Born into a prominent Saudi family — his father was the mayor of Jeddah and a well-respected urban planner — the dapper Farsi initially moved to London in 1993 with a view to overseeing his family’s investment company.

Soon, however, he was indulging his appetite for all things cultural. He was a significant silent investor in the Donmar Theatre in the mid-1990s, giving then-artistic director Sam Mendes the springboard to launch his filmmaking career.

“I could have gone back to Saudi Arabia and made a fortune in real estate but what would I have created?” says Farsi, who has also invested in a number of restaurants and bars including the Soho House chain. “Sam and I were both fans of Arsenal football club and I had loved his production of ‘Glengarry Glen Ross.’ I saw the Donmar donation as my gift to London.”

Farsi is now looking to expand his shingle Corniche Pictures even further. He’s talking with a number of U.K. distributors over a possible joint venture that would launch next year. And while Middle East investors have competed to grab Hollywood’s attention with promises of slate funding — witness Abu Dhabi’s $1 billion production arm Imagenation — Farsi is content to take a more targeted approach.

“I can only speak for myself, but I’m not a big fan of slates of films,” he says. “I don’t feel you create the best product that way. I only have a desire to make one or two specific films a year.”

The next project for Farsi’s Corniche Pictures is likely to be “Waltz With Bashir” helmer Ari Folman’s “The Futurological Congress,” based on Stanislaw Lem’s sci-fi novel about a man at a conference on global overpopulation who is besieged by government and rebel forces.

It says something about Farsi’s world view that he thinks nothing of investing in an Israeli director’s project just after working with a Palestinian director.

“Nothing changes without dialogue,” says Farsi. “We need to be willing to talk and be open with each other. It makes no sense if it’s only one side taking the step forward. We need to move towards each other.”