Multimillion-dollar Disney-Fox merger may create a new nerdy nirvana

Walt Disney announced on Thursday that was buying most of movie goliath Fox for $52.4 billion in stock. The purchase includes Fox’s film and television studios, as well as its 39 percent stake in satellite broadcaster Sky. (AP)
Updated 16 December 2017
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Multimillion-dollar Disney-Fox merger may create a new nerdy nirvana

MENLO PARK, California: The coming union of the Disney and Fox media empires is set to create a new nirvana for fanboys and -girls, one that reunites superheroes and sci-fi characters long separated by an energy barrier of corporate legalism.
Take, for instance, the fractured world of Marvel superheroes. For years, the X-Men (Wolverine, Storm, Professor X and the crew) and the Fantastic Four (Thing, Invisible Woman, et al) have battled bad dudes from the studios of 20th Century Fox. Meanwhile Iron Man, Black Widow and other Avengers vanquished villains in another corner of the galaxy run by Disney. Almost ne’er the twain did meet — though that could soon change.
In a related fashion, rights to the various “Star Wars” films have been scattered all over a galaxy far, far away; those will soon be unified under a powerful Galactic Emp– er, well, Magic Kingdom.
Disney’s announcement Thursday that it’s buying most of movie goliath Fox for $52.4 billion in stock brings these once disparate franchises together, possibly for as-yet unplanned intergalactic dust-ups. Add the “Avatar” franchise to the blockbuster mix, and the company that launched Mickey Mouse will be an unavoidable presence at the box office and online if the deal goes through.
The combined company will account for more than a third of theatrical revenues in the US and Canada, an $11 billion business last year, not to mention a huge chunk of the global theater-going pie, according to Daniel Ives, chief strategy officer at market research firm GBH Insights.
That would make the Disney juggernaut a more powerful theatrical force to be reckoned with than ever before. Online, Disney has announced plans to launch its own streaming service in 2019, after pulling titles like “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” and Disney’s “Moana” from Netflix’s streaming platform to move onto its own. After Fox’s deal to send its movies to HBO ends reportedly in 2022, its films will also move to the Disney streaming platforms.
“Creating a direct-to-consumer relationship is vital to the future of our media businesses and it’s our highest priority,” Disney CEO Bob Iger told investors in a Thursday conference call detailing the Fox deal.
Those old enough to remember the blaring 20th Century Fox opening to the original “Star Wars” (Episode IV) may no longer have to search far, far, away to find the other titles. The original was made and distributed by Fox, but it was a quirk of the series.
Episodes V, VI, I, II, and III were owned by Lucasfilm (bought by Disney in 2012) and distributed by Fox. You can only stream those first six movies endlessly if you buy them and register them through the not-terribly-popular UltraViolet system backed by several studios. (You can also rent them digitally.) “The Force Awakens” — Episode VII — is available to streaming subscribers, though only if you have Starz.
The Force may finally put these titles in one place.
Buying Fox will also give Disney a majority stake in streaming platform Hulu. The addition of Fox’s regional sports TV networks and National Geographic video programming in the deal could let the new service bundle hugely popular movie and TV franchises, local sports broadcast rights, and distribution platforms into one live online video empire.
That would recreate online what the US Supreme Court broke apart in the 1940s. That’s when the court forced Hollywood studios to divest ownership of theater chains to keep content producers from controlling every step along the way to the consumer.
“This moves Disney from an afterthought in streaming to a legitimate contender,” Ives said.
At the same time, tech companies — particularly Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple — are making big investments in video streaming. Hollywood-centered entertainment companies have struggled as people drop traditional TV packages, shifting the nexus of power in entertainment from the Hollywood Hills toward Silicon Valley and Seattle.
That marketplace dynamic could help pave the way for regulators to clear the deal, aimed to close within the next 12 to 18 months.
“These guys are up against Facebook and Google, not Warner Bros. and MGM,” said Mike Kelly, the former Weather Channel CEO who is now CEO of investment and advisory firm Kelly Newman Ventures. “If you look at it that way, I don’t think the government would have that big of an issue with it.”
Iger said he anticipates a “significant amount of regulatory scrutiny both in the United States and internationally” because of the deal’s size, but he said authorities should quickly approve it because it makes sense for consumers.
He said Disney’s current thinking is to split its streaming services into three different brands, such as a Disney-labeled family service that would fold in NatGeo, Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm; an ESPN-led sports service; and an adult-oriented service that would incorporate Hulu and some of Fox’s TV shows.
Disney also aims to expand the global audience of its cast of characters as it pulls in Fox’s London-based pay-TV broadcaster Sky, which has a pan-European audience, and Mumbai-based Star India.
But there’s one part of the comic book world that will escapes Disney’s sizable web: Spider-Man, whose rights Marvel partially farmed out to Sony.
Although Sony and Disney cut a deal to include Spidey in Avengers tales starting with “Captain America: Civil War” last year, Sony continues to develop its own alternate reality with movies like the animated “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse” as well as spin-offs “Venom” and “Silver & Black” starting in 2018.


Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

Updated 17 September 2018
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Arabic cinema wins over movie-goers

  • Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, ‘The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,’ at the Venice Film Festival
  • Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film ‘The Insult’

LONDON: Arabic cinema has increasingly captured the imagination of movie-lovers around the world this year, with Arab film-makers winning award nominations and securing high-profile screenings at major film festivals.
This month the Oscar-nominated Saudi Arabian director Haifaa Al-Mansour premiered her short film set in Riyadh, “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” at the Venice Film Festival. Al-Mansour previously wrote and directed the film “Wadjda,” which was the first foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia in 2014.
Earlier in the year Ziad Doueiri was the first Lebanese film director to be nominated for an Oscar with his film “The Insult.”
“Arab cinema’s profile has been on the rise. There are several different Arab movies being shown at Venice (film festival) this year,” said Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and the curator of this year’s London-based Safar Film Festival, which runs on Sept. 13-18.
Daniel Gorman, the director of London’s biannual Shubbak festival, which showcases mainly contemporary Arabic culture, art and film, said he that has seen the appeal of Arabic film grow in the UK.
“There is a huge interest and appetite for creative work coming from across the Arab world and there is strong interest in the UK to hear the voices of people from across the region, in an area that is generally represented in headlines in newspapers. Film is an excellent way of doing that,” he said.
Festivals have played a vital role in boosting awareness of Arab film, he said.
“(They) are able to bring new audiences to new work as they bring this concentrated moment of activity. A festival tends to have a bit more reach in terms of media coverage and audience awareness.
“(It) brings people along to something which they might not go to as a one-off screening,” Gorman said, explaining how the Shubbak festival also works with local schools and community groups to increase access to Arabic film and art.
This year’s Safar film festival — which is in its fourth year and organized by the Arab British Center — has focused on the theme of literature and film in the Arab world.
Fahim has created a program that includes movies dating back to the 1960s that have been buried deep in their respective country’s archives, as well as new films that have not been screened in London yet.
One of the films included is the Tunisian “In the Land of Tararanni,” originally released in 1973 and based on a collection of short stories by Ali Dougai.
It was one of the more tricky recordings to track down, said Nadia El-Sebai, executive director at the Arab British Center.
“There are films in this program that audiences will have no idea how many people it took to get that film,” she said, explaining the lengthy negotiations with ministries of culture, national archives and old friends and contacts to track down the much sought-after recordings.
There were other movies they had to give up on ever finding, including those lost in Syria or Iraq, or old versions of films that have not yet been digitised by national archives, she said.
More recent festival entries include this year’s Egyptian film “Poisonous Roses,” adapted from a 1990s cult novel, as well as the European premiere of the work of an Iraqi filmmaker — “Stories of Passers Through” — which traces the stories of Iraqis exiled from their country during the Saddam Hussein regime.
The literary theme of this year’s festival was chosen as a reaction to the growing popularity of contemporary Arab cinema, with the event’s organizers wanting to delve into the history of Arabic film.
“We are delighted by the increasing access to Arabic cinema. There are more films plugged into the London film festival this year. We have other other festivals — the Shubbak festival (in London), and the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival,” said El-Sebai.
“For this year’s edition we thought we would like to take the opportunity to go a little deeper into the history and heritage of Arabic cinema, and the industry,” she said.
“Safar is taking place just before London Film Festival (LFF), which was another motivation for us to look at something a bit different as we are definitely going to see really amazing contemporary films at the London Film Festival,” she said.
The LFF — which begins on Oct. 10 — is set to feature work by Syrian filmmaker Soudade Kaadan as well as the Saudi Arabian director Mahmoud Sabbagh’s latest dark comedy “Amra and the Second Marriage,” among other Arab productions.
Fahim was also keen to use the Safar event as a way of bringing audiences’ attention to a broader range of Arabic movies, highlighting the heritage of the film industry.
“It is reminding people that Arab cinema did not spring out today — there is a long history,” he said, adding that he wanted to question audience expectations.
“There have been a flood of amazing images from Arab cinema being displayed at festivals and most critics had no idea what they were. The more I spoke to people, the more I realized that there is a certain expectation of what Arab movies should be,” he said.
“We wanted to challenge what people expect from Arab cinema … I am tired of seeing Lawrence of Arabia a gazillion times on the big screen,” he said.
He said the selected films in the festival will hopefully challenge preconceptions. He referred to the inclusion of the 1964 Egyptian film — “The Search” — based on the writer Naguib Mahfouz’s novel. “It is a crime noir. It is essentially an existential noir and I don’t think many people will expect to see that,” he said.
Arabic cinema, however, needs to be better promoted, he said, noting a dearth of adequate film critics.
“At the big festivals it sometimes feels like Arab cinema is the bottom priority for critics,” he said.
“We need more perceptive writing. I could name you on one hand the film critics who know their stuff. That needs to change. Maybe we need to have more different voices. Film criticism is still being dominated by white male writers — although it has been developing — but that is still the norm,” he said.