As Wall Street banks and other traditional wells of film financing continue to run dry, moviemakers are increasingly looking to the Middle East and Asia for money to fund their projects, says a Middle East film finance expert. Raja Sharif, the director of international affairs for Alnoor Holdings, the Doha-based private media company that launched last year, said financial hardship in the West had created opportunities in this region.
"There has been a structural change, industry-wide," he said. "What you are seeing now is the rise of the Middle Eastern and Asian funds, and companies that want to be involved in that." These include: Alnoor's US$200 million (Dh734.5m) international production film fund, launched last November in Doha; Imagenation Abu Dhabi's $1 billion fund launched in the autumn of 2008; and India's Mahindra and Mahindra's $50m fund launched in the spring of 2008. Imagenation is owned by Abu Dhabi Media Company, which publishes and owns The National.
The rise of these funds has coincided with growing concerns among regional investors about the more traditional types of investments, which were hardest hit by the financial crisis. "Traditionally, people here in the Middle East have been more comfortable with investments in real estate and banking, but of course those industries suffered, so investors are generally looking for higher returns from other industries," Mr Sharif said.
"The film industry, although it can be risky, if properly done can bring in quite good returns as well, of up to 20 per cent." These two shifts inspired Alnoor Holdings, along with its partner, the Financial Times, to hold the first Business of Film Summit starting today in Doha, which Mr Sharif said was "a centre of liquidity". Qatar is expected to see 16 per cent GDP growth this year, according to Business Monitor International.
More than 200 delegates are expected at the summit, which will include panels with Greg Coote, the chairman and chief executive of Dune Entertainment, one of the main funders of the recent blockbuster Avatar, Mark Gordon, the producer of the film 2012, and Michael Andreen, the senior vice president of international production at Walt Disney. Although the UAE is still the centre of the Gulf film industry, Doha has played an increasingly important role recently, most notably with the launch of the Doha Tribeca Film Festival last autumn.
At that event, Alnoor announced its first project, a $150m English-language film on the life of the Prophet Mohammed. Barrie Osborne, best known for his work on The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Matrix and Apocalypse Now,i> signed up to produce the feature, and the company plans to announce a script writer "within the next couple of weeks", Mr Sharif said. It is expected to take two years to make. "It's quite a big production, of course, and we're getting all the class-A talent from Hollywood and Europe to participate," he said.
While Alnoor is banking on the film's appeal to Muslims around the world, it will be aimed at general audiences and carry a universal story. "We want to make sure people are actually entertained by it, and we think it's a story that hasn't really been told before in the same way that we are going to tell it here." Alnoor also has an Arabic division and a children's division, which purchased the UAE-based animation company Emari Toons last year.