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MipTV: MBC Group and Image Nation Abu Dhabi Forge Production Partnership

Variety logo Variety 4/5/2017 Nick Vivarelli
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ROME — Top Arab free-to-air satcaster MBC Group and prominent Middle East production company Image Nation Abu Dhabi, which has Hollywood ties, have announced a film and TV production partnership that will spawn an ambitious Saudi Arabia-set sci-fi feature film and its bold TV spinoff, plus two more TV series.

The tie-up could become a game changer in the region where edgy high-end original productions are scarce.

MBC’s production arm O3 Productions and Image Nation have announced they will co-finance and co-produce an Arabic-language adaptation of Saudi author Ibraheem Abbas’ sci-fi novel “HWJN,” a pop culture phenomenon across the Arab world. The book about a supernatural being described as “a friendly devout Jinn” in press materials who forges a friendship with a female Saudi medical student named Sawsan, has become a best-seller in several Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, though it has been reportedly banned in Kuwait and Qatar. The censorship may partly help to explain why it has allegedly been illegally dowloaded more than a million times.  The director of the “HWJN” adaptation is still being decided.

The spin-off of the sci-fi feature will be entitled “The Delusionists” and will see the film’s supernatural protagonist team up with another character to “track down and expose the charlatans and fake peddlers of black magic and sorcery in modern day Saudi Arabia which has reached epidemic levels,” according to a statement, thus providing a “unique take on modern Saudi and Arab society.”

The two other TV series to be made under the partnership are being kept under wraps.

MBC, which was among producers of Palestinian director Hani Abu Assad’s movie “The Idol,” has until now kept a rather low profile as an Arab scripted content producer, preferring to rely on acquisitions rather than original productions to feed its channels. Image Nation Abu Dhabi, which is headed by U.S. exec Michael Garin, has a slate combining Emirati feature films, such as director Ali Mostafa’s dystopian thriller “The Worthy,” and Hollywood movies through partnerships with, among others, Parkes/Macdonald Productions. On the TV side they recently completed production on groundbreaking Abu Dhabi-set legal drama “Justice,” inspired by “L.A. Law.” Written by Emmy Award-winning U.S. producer and writer William Finkelstein in collaboration with a local team, Justice is the first legal procedural out of the Middle East and the biggest TV show out of the United Arab Emirates.

“We are delighted with our collaboration with Image Nation Abu Dhabi, thus integrating our efforts, expertise and production vision,” said Fadi Ismail, Group Director of 03 Productions, in a statement. He noted that the partnership “will ultimately contribute to uplifting and enhancing the artistic direction and production value of Gulf dramas in general and Saudi dramas in particular.”

Ben Ross, who is Head of Narrative Film and Television at Image Nation, noted that the strategic partnership “reinforces Image Nation’s position as a valued production partner in the region and adds to our already robust slate of programs across film and television.”

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