Imagenation Abu Dhabi slips into 'Shadow'

Emirati group makes first move to back Arab film

CANNES -- Imagenation Abu Dhabi, the Emirati conglom that is busily investing in content from Hollywood to Bollywood and beyond, has just taken the wraps off its first concrete investment in local Arabic filmmaking. A drama called "Sea Shadow," to be directed by Nawaf al-Janahi and written by Mohamed Hassan Ahmad, will be the first in a series of projects to be developed, financed and produced by the company.

Unveiling the project Friday in Cannes, funders described the pic as a coming-of-age story which centers on "first love, family relationships and deeply rooted values." The project is scheduled to begin shooting in the UAE in the fall.

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Abu Dhabi-based Al-Janahi, 33, directed and produced the short "Mirrors of Silence" and the full-length feature "The Circle," which premiered at the Gulf Film Festival in 2009.

"Sea Shadow" is set in an Emirati neighborhood where traditions make it hard to express emotions openly. The story follows teens Mansour and Kaltham, who commence a journey of self discovery that takes them from Ras al Khaima to Abu Dhabi after life in their little village is shaken up by misunderstandings and wrong decisions.

Mohamed Khalaf Al Mazrouei, chairman of Imagenation Abu Dhabi, said the film "signals our determination to help grow a generation of filmmakers whose work is of a quality and standard to appeal both to local and regional audiences, and powerful enough to resonate with moviegoers internationally."

Edward Borgerding, CEO of Imagenation as well as an American and former Disney International TV exec, told THR the investment in local productions will be "substantial," pointing out that money is less of a problem; developing and training locals is where the real work will lie.

"This is a big deal for us -- a historic day -- and the beginning of many movies we will make in the region," he said. "It's also a lot of fun to help jumpstart an industry, one that can sustain over time."

Moreover, he added, pics like "Sea Shadow" should "help us nurture and attract home-grown talent, which is key to the future of the creative and media industry in the region."

In his job for 2 1/2 years, Borgerding said the long-term goal of the company is to be involved with content creators from all the key global centers and to form business relationships with key talent of all kinds.

The company has followed slightly different business models, for example, in putting up more than $1 billion to be in business with Hollywood companies as diverse as Warner Bros., National Geo, Participant Films, Hyde Park and Parkes/MacDonald Prods.

Imagenation-backed movies include Cannes Competition entry "Fair Game," directed by Doug Liman, as well as the Bollywood hit "My Name Is Khan" and Peter Weir's upcoming pic "The Way Back."

Borgerding and his team also are spending a lot of effort to boost the broadband side of the company's business, investing in Vivo, Gazillion and other new media entities.

Launched in 2008 as a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Media Co., Imagenation also recently formed a partnership with Singapore's Media Development Authority. In addition, Imagenation partnered with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment -- co-financing video games such as: "SpeedRacer: The Videogame" and "Looney Tunes Acme Arsenal."
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