TIFF: Antigua Looking to Keep 'Pirates' Spirit Alive With $125M Film Fund

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The fund's first project will be a biopic of Bob Marley, called 'Rebels.'

The fund will be the first-ever to use the Caribbean island's citizenship-by-investment program to finance movies.

In a groundbreaking move in the world of film finance, the Caribbean island of Antigua has approved a film fund that will tap the country's citizenship-by-investment program, allowing high-wealth individuals to put money into movies in exchange for Antiguan citizenship.

The fund, announced at TIFF Monday by new production outfit Golden Islands Filmworks, will raise $125 million to go towards the financing of five feature films, with a total production cost of $250 million. The five projects to be financed under the scheme include the Bob Marley biopic Rebels and an espionage thriller based on the bestselling Nick Carter novels.

Golden Islands' principles include producer Rudy Langlais (The Hurricane, Sugar Hill), Caribbean entrepreneur Valmiki Kempadoo, Toronto-based producer Don Allan (Bang Bang Baby) and former Yari Group and Film Department executive Neil Sacker.

The fund will see investors put in a minimum of $400,000 into a single film project. In exchange, under Antigua's citizenship-by-investment program, they will receive citizenship on the island, with all the tax and travel advantages that conveys. Like many countries, Antiqua has long allowed investors to buy citizenship in exchange for investing in their country. But while such program has been used in other sectors – like real estate – this will be the first time, anywhere in the world, it has been applied to the film business.

“What changed, is the Pirates of the Caribbean happened,” Langlais told The Hollywood Reporter. “Those films shot down in the region and dropped a lot of money down there. When they left, Antigua wanted to keep the business going. But they don't have the infrastructure or studios to draw in projects. We had to come up with another way.”

Golden Islands' set up will see the fund's equity combined with traditional soft money and pre-sales to finance the initial five pictures in its slate. Langlais says all projects will shoot in part in the Caribbean but will be set up as co-productions with either Canada or the U.K., to take advantage of tax-break scheme in those countries.

The first project to be backed under the scheme will be Rebels, the story of iconic Reggae musician Bob Marley and three contemporaries, all rebels in the system, who were key to his rise. They include Marley's manager, Jamaican professional soccer player Allan Cole; Johnny Nash, the founder of JAD records, the first label to sign Marley; and Danny Sims, a mobster business man who was a financial backer of JAD.

Golden Islands has also acquired the rights to the Nick Carter: Killmaster novels, a series of hit spy books from the 1960s that have sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, with an eye to updating the franchise for the big screen. They will produce the first Nick Carter feature, Nick Carter: The Judas Conspiracy as their second project. The film's plot, intended as the first in a new espionage franchise, is set in the world of contemporary cyber-espionage. 

The agreement for the film fund was facilitated by Eric WeissmannLizbeth Hasse and Erin Harrison of Creative Industry Law Group and producer/financier Karen Longley Gordy, who will serve as a principal in the company. Joseph Cohen of American Entertainment Investors and Larry Becksey of Intellectual Property Group served as Golden Islands’ advisors in the closing. 

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