National Geographic partners with Abu Dhabi's Imagenation

US$100 million is committed to make 10 to 15 films over the next five years.

Edward Borgerding, CEO of ADMC and Imagenation, centre, with Jake Eberts, left, and Tim Kelly, right, from National Geographic at a press conference to announce the joint venture.
Powered by automated translation

ABU DHABI // An Abu Dhabi company has joined forces with National Geographic Entertainment to invest US$100 million (Dh367m) in producing 10 to 15 films in the next five years. The feature film division of National Geographic is led by longtime producer Jake Eberts, whose previous films including Gandhi, Driving Miss Daisy and Dances With Wolves have won a total of 12 Academy Awards. Mr Eberts pointed to these and other films he has developed and produced during his 30-year career as examples of the kinds of films that the new partnership could make. "Our focus will be on true stories, although not exclusively," he said. "The films that we typically try to make are challenging. That's the niche that we are going for." He added that a few of the partnerships' films might be IMAX films or documentaries, but the focus would be on feature films, resembling anything "from Indiana Jones to Whale Rider". The partnership represents the second major international alliance formed by Imagenation Abu Dhabi since its formation as a $1 billion film fund by Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) last month. "National Geographic is a global brand that shares many of the same values that we share: commitment to the environment and respect for different cultures," said Edward Borgerding, the chief executive of Imagenation and the ADMC, the parent company of this newspaper. "People know them all over the world, and it's a brand that appeals to all sorts of people. They are a good, natural partner for us." Mr Borgerding signed the deal with Tim Kelly, the president of National Geographic Global Media, at an Emirates Palace ceremony as part of the Middle East International Film Festival. The ceremony was also attended by Mohamed Khalaf al Mazrouei, the chairman of Imagenation Abu Dhabi and ADMC. The new series of films will be funded equally by both partners. National Geographic Entertainment is part of National Geographic Global Media, which reaches more than 325 million people each month through magazines, books, digital media, television, radio, music and film. Its film division is best known for the 2005 hit documentary March of the Penguins, which grossed over $73 million. The profits from its media activities go back into the educational and scientific projects of the National Geographic Society, a non-profit group founded in 1888 "to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge". Mr Eberts said the alliance came about in part because of his long professional relationship with Mr Borgerding, who spent 20 years at The Walt Disney Company before joining ADMC last spring. A native of Montreal, Mr Eberts got his first glimpse of Abu Dhabi in 1973 while working for the investment house Oppenheimer & Co in London. He was struck by the hospitality of Emiratis during that time, he said, and has had that impression reinforced by recent visits. "When I travelled out to Abu Dhabi, I had the enormous pleasure of meeting people like the Crown Prince and Khaldoon Al Mubarak - people who are deeply involved in building a nation, and who have a very clear understanding of the power of cinema and what can be done to reach across these great divides and help people understand each other." Several of Mr Eberts's recent projects deal directly with this mission in the Middle East. He produced an IMAX film about the travels of Ibn Battuta, including much footage of the Haj, which is due to premier in Abu Dhabi in December. He has also been working on The Gandhi Project, an initiative of the non-profit organisation Relief International, which offers free, Arabic-dubbed screenings of Gandhi to people in the Palestinian territories, followed by discussions about the movie's message of non-violence. The project is funded by the Skoll Foundation, whose founder, Jeff Skoll, serves as the chairman of Participant Media, which signed a $250m partnership with ­Imagenation Abu Dhabi last month. Like Participant, National Geographic Films will set up an office in Abu Dhabi and plans to announce its first project within the next few months. When asked how National Geographic would balance the requirements of the marketplace with the conservative traditions of its partner's government owners, Mr Eberts gestured to Sir Ben Kingsley, who was attending the briefing in advance of Gandhi's screening at the film festival later in the day, as an example of how he has dealt with such challenges in the past. "We had enormous difficulties in India when we began to talk about the production of this film, not just because of censorship, but also because of national sensitivity, and the way we addressed it was just through truth," he said. "Ben did a truthful job. It worked, and we did not have any criticism after the film was made."