Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Arab businessmen invest in Warner Brothers films

The New York Times is reporting that Abu Dhabi Media Company, which belongs to the government of the capital of the United Arab Emirates, has made a deal for $1 billion to invest in films and video games for Warner Brothers, one of the major Hollywood Studios, a subsidiary of Time Warner. Warner Brothers has the trademark showing an orange picture of its studio lot with the Casablanca musical theme playing with piano and orchestra. I wish WB would always use this musical trademark!

But the Arab entity will have American partners, to be announced at the Toronto Film Festival on September 13. This is said to be an investment from Arab princes “flush with oil money”. Abu Dhabi is a separate city from Dubai (with the Burj) but it isn’t hard to imagine Dubai becoming involved, too.

There has been some loss of hedge fund money in Hollywood because the recent financial downturns associated with the credit crunch. The Weinstein Company and MGM (which sometimes collaborate) are said to have often received hedge fund investment, but the practice is rather common in a lot of larger independent films (and producer's conferences, such as those sponsored by IFP in some cities, cover the process). But some industry people wonder about accepting “a hand that feeds you” tied to governments with religious cultural values, even if places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai seem freer than other parts of the Islamic world.

In the past, Hollywood was affected severely by political loyalty issues and “anti-Communist” purges back in the 1940s and 1950s, along with blacklists. A lot of controversial plots and ideas only gradually became acceptable, with leading actors refusing some controversial roles (“Double Indemnity”) for a long time.

It should be noted that Islam has come up with some powerful independent film, such as “The Yacoubian Building” from Egypt, and “In the Name of God” from Pakistan. The first of these films now is distributed in the US by Strand. Recently, there was an Islamic film festival in Washington DC. First Run Features will soon release Parvez Sharma’s “A Jihad for Love” about homosexuality and Islam. A few edgy short films (“Fitna” and “Submission”) have caused extreme controversy and retribution or at least threats in radical Islam.

The news story, however, appears to be related to big-budget mass market films (especially family films) intended to have widespread appeal in the US and the West, rather than the independent films designed for adult and well-educated urban audiences (typical of The Weinstein Company, Magnolia, Overture, Lionsgate, and similar companies).

The story appears on p C1, “Business Day” of today’s NY Times (Sept 3), is called “Abu Dhabi puts more cash on the line in Hollywood,” is written by Tim Arango, and has this link.

Is the next stop for movie studio financing the Peoples Republic of Capitalism (e.g., China)?

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