Capital idea for filmmakers in Dubai

Producers jump on real-estate market

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DUBAI -- The sinking fortunes of the Dubai real-estate market are providing an interesting opportunity for foreign filmmakers hoping to grab some of that freed-up investment capital.

Case in point, producer Karl Haupt. The Cologne-based filmmaker is working with Dubai firm TheRightsLawyers to develop a venture capital fund, which plans to raise some AED500 million ($136 million) to finance an initial slate of four films.

The news follows a Reuters survey this month that predicted a 28% drop in housing prices in Dubai, presenting a need for an alternative investment opportunity.

"Typically, real estate has always been the safe haven for investment," said Haupt, who will provide content for the fund, which is being put together by Dubai-based TheRightsLawyers' Peter and Mark Hill -- a leading media player here. "That just isn't true any more. Most of the money in Dubai was earmarked for real estate. We are trying to offer in this global financial crisis an opportunity for investing. It is not just enough to have money, you have to make it work or it gets eaten up by inflation."

A graduate of NYU's prestigious film school, where fellow alumni include Jim Jarmush and Barry Sonnenfeld, Haupt expects the Dubai-set "The Coast of Pearls" to be the first film to be financed by the fund.

The film is a high-adventure odyssey of a desert tribesman who lives on what was once known as the Pirate Coast, now the United Arab Emirates.

The film tells the story of the last 85 years of the region's evolution through the personal journey of a humble desert tribesman, who survives the hazards of being a pearl diver before being kidnapped by pirates and enslaved to a mysterious mountain tribe.

Haupt plans to shoot the film in Dubai's state-of-the art Studio City production facility and also is looking to produce his film "The Weather Man" here.

Haupt's other projects include "The Voice of God," which is set in his home-town of Cologne, Germany, back in the 1960s, and "The Word," a film about an academic who invents a word that has mysterious hypnotic powers on anyone who reads it.

"This type of fund started in Germany to finance the shipping industry, and went on to fund both shipping and film. They have a lot in common," Haupt said. "They are high risk in that if they succeed you can make a lot of money, but if they sink you fail badly."