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National Geographic films shutting down, say insiders

National Geographic Films, which is associated with the hit documentary March of the Penguins in 2005, is shutting down, according to two individuals with knowledge of the independent studio

Reuters, Saturday 24 Dec 2011
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The studio has brought in a scant $1.7 million in revenue this year, with five films in release including The Last Lion, The First Grader and Life in a Day.

The Last Lion, a documentary about the dwindling population of big cats, took in the most of any film, just $635,000 in 61 cinemas in America.

The individuals said that the New York-based operation was shutting down, and that president Daniel Battsek was negotiating an exit.

Neither Battsek nor spokespersons for National Geographic Films were immediately available when TheWrap reached out for comment. 

National Geographic Films is a division of National Geographic Entertainment, created in 2007 and combining Cinema Ventures, Feature Films, Kids Entertainment, Home Entertainment and Music & Radio into a single division headed by David Beal.

Battsek joined the company in January 2010 after leaving Miramax when Disney put that unit up for sale.

The weak showing at the box office this year and tepid development seemed out of step with expectations for the studio.  National Geographic had a deep source of funding from Abu Dhabi’s Imagenation, which put up $100 million to form a joint venture for movies in 2008.

That fund never seemed to be tapped very deeply and the first project was not a success. Peter Weir's The Way Back, the first project developed and created under the National Geographic-Abu Dhabi Film Fund, was a flop. It cost $30 million to produce and took in just $20 million worldwide. 

National Geographic had a couple of notable films, Oscar-nominated documentaries Restrepo and The Story of the Weeping Camel; giant-screen films Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure, U2 3D and Mysteries of Egypt.

Battsek was seen as a cautious executive who made few movies despite the resources from the Arabian Gulf. And there were rumors from insiders that Abu Dhabi would not renew the relationship once these funds were spent.

Executive Adam Leipzig put National Geographic on the map with the penguins documentary, which won the Oscar for best documentary in 2005 and took in $127 million worldwide.

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