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Imax Launching $50 Million Film Fund for Documentaries (EXCLUSIVE)

Imax will develop documentaries using a newly created $50 million fund, with the wide-screen company promising a series of films that will deal with such heady topics as globalization, technology and space, but with a sense of humor.

“This is an opportunity to reset the tone of these movies — to make them a little edgier and hipper,” said Greg Foster, chairman and president of Imax Entertainment. “We need to make movies that are a little bit more reflective of third graders today as opposed to third graders 25 years ago and that’s what these movies are about.”

The wide-screen company plans to produce roughly two original films annually, with production on the first documentary expected to begin in the next six months. The films are being developed with an eye towards the 115 museums, science centers, aquariums and other institutional partners that have Imax screens. Foster said he thinks some of these films may end up showing in commercial theaters.

The financial arm of the Knights of Columbus contributed an initial investment of $25 million, with the possibility of continuing beyond that level. For its part, Imax will contribute $9 million over five years. The rest of the funding will be in bank debt, which will be tapped if needed. The company said it will reinvest a portion of the its box office profits in the fund, with a goal of making it self-sustaining.

Production decisions will be made by a greenlight committee that will be chaired by Foster. The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization that is involved in educational and charitable initiatives, will have an advisory role, but the final decisions rest with the committee.

“The only thing that will matter is that they take you somewhere you dream about going to and probably will never get to, that they’re for all audiences, that they have a geographic and cultural diversity, that they’re cinematic and that they have scope,” said Foster.

Though Imax has become synonymous in recent years with fanboy blockbusters, it has an extensive roots in documentary films. Among the projects its backed over the past 45 years in the genre are “Dolphins” (2000), “The Dream is Alive” (1985) and “Space Station 3D” (2002). Yet Foster noted that getting funding for independent documentaries that can cost millions of dollars can be tricky.

“The success of our business in Hollywood has been incredible, but it’s always concerned me that it might be so successful that it might impact our documentary films and this insures the sustainability of these documentary films,” he said.

The new funding will not preclude Imax partnering with studios to back certain projects.

The Fund will be managed by Patrician Capital Management.

Mesa Global helped close the financing deal, which was spearheaded by Mark Patricof, the boutique investment firm’s co-founder,  and Marni Wieshofer, formerly the chief financial officer of Lionsgate and Media Rights Capital.

“Mesa has had a long term relationship with Imax and we consider the company as a fresh and innovative brand in the film business,” Patricof said. “We are pleased to have a role in bringing this deal together as the film fund will bring exciting new projects to the Imax screens. We look forward to working closely with the Imax management team on more deals in the future as they continue to explore further expansion plans.”

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