Production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi, exhibitor Vox Cinemas and broadcaster MBC have entered a production partnership that “in essence creates a fully integrated studio” for Middle East film and TV projects, said MBC Studios managing director Peter Smith.
The alliance between the trio of Middle East heavyweights, unveiled Wednesday in Cannes, is focused on the nascent Saudi Arabia market, but also the UAE and Egypt, which now cumulatively form a regional audience “well in excess of 100 million people,” said Image Nation CEO Michael Garin.
Image Nation is already the leading regional producer, the company behind landmark Abu Dhabi-set legal drama “Justice,” which plays on Netflix, and this year’s Oscar-winning doc, “Free Solo.” Vox operates 400 Middle East screens, while MBC is the top Arabic free-TV broadcaster and also runs a streaming service.
In Cannes, the trio announced two feature film projects: a “vampire family drama” titled “Three Four Eternity,” produced by Egypt’s Mohamed Hefzy, who had “Yomeddine” at Cannes last year, and directed by Rami Yasin, a Jordanian/Canadian multi-hyphenate, for his feature film debut; and “HWJN,” the adaptation of a best-selling Saudi Arabian novel about “a devout, God-fearing jinn who forges a special bond with a talented female medical student,” according to promotional materials. These will both go into production this year.
“Saudi is at the forefront of this initiative,” said Garin. “This is not an the expense of the UAE,” which is becoming a regional production hub, he said, noting that “the other piece of the puzzle is Egypt.”
Khaled El Chidiac, who is acting CEO of the Majid Al Futaim conglomerate which owns Vox, said: “There has never been a more exciting time to be part of this field” in the region and “particularly Saudi Arabia,” where Vox leads the way in exhibition with 47 screens now up and running. Another 110 are scheduled by year’s end and a total of 600 planned, “offering a massive platform for regional filmmakers,” he said.
Smith said that, with the new alliance, for the first time there is “a 360-degree Arab film entity that covers all aspects of content creation, including development, production, theatrical exhibition,” as well as TV distribution and international sales.
(Pictured: Rami Yasin)