Kadafi son had a Hollywood connection
These days Saadi Kadafi is on the run, presumably somewhere in North Africa, dodging the rebels who ended his father’s 42-year-long dictatorship in Libya.
But just two years ago this month, the 38-year-old third son of Moammar Kadafi was perched on a couch surrounded by Champagne bottles, holding court at a glittering rooftop party at the Toronto International Film Festival. As rapper 50 Cent performed and guests sampled Beluga caviar, Kadafi and his American partner, Matty Beckerman, schmoozed with agents to promote themselves as the newest players in the world of independent filmmaking. It was a coming-out party for their production company, Natural Selection, which claimed to have a $100-million investment fund and a goal of making 21 movies over five years.
Within months, Natural Selection was producing the horror film “Isolation,” starring Susan Sarandon’s daughter, Eva Amurri. On the set, according to people involved in the project, was a canvas producer’s chair with the name “Kadafi” stenciled on the back. He never showed up to sit in it.
Saadi Kadafi’s venture into moviedom turned out to be brief and ultimately unsuccessful, a saga of the ultimate outsider gaining and losing a toehold in the industry. “Isolation” and the only other film produced by Natural Selection went direct to video — an ignominious fate for a producer — and a true-crime drama the company was set to make with Mickey Rourke never moved beyond the script stage. The U.S. government froze Kadafi’s assets in this country this year and Natural Selection has closed its doors.
Beckerman did not respond to repeated requests for interviews and a woman who answered his cellphone said he would not speak to the press. But the story of Kadafi’s venture into Hollywood was pieced together from the public record and from interviews with various agents, producers, executives and others who did business with Natural Selection, most of whom would not speak for attribution given his current notoriety.
When Kadafi began cultivating Hollywood connections, he told people he saw it not just as a way to demonstrate his interest in the arts but as an avenue to advance the notion that Libya was becoming a more modern nation and open society. He was particularly proud that his American partner was Jewish, suggesting it was evidence that Libya was more tolerant and open-minded.
“The impression I got was that [Saadi] wanted to make a bridge between his country and the West and to break away from his father’s image,” said Danny Sherman, a producer on “Isolation.”
At the time, funding for the independent film industry was drying up as a result of the 2008 financial meltdown and Libya was reaching out to the West after a warming of relations with the George W. Bush administration when Libya ended its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction in 2003.
Moreover, Saadi Kadafi, unlike siblings who followed their father into the military and the repressive Libyan government, pursued interests in the arts and sports. He spent several years attempting to succeed as a professional soccer player in Italy but played just 10 minutes in two games over a four-year career and returned to Libya in 2007, according to HBO’s “Real Sports.” His first approach to the entertainment industry came in 2004, when he showed up at the Venice Film Festival. According to the trade paper Variety, Kadafi claimed to have a $100- million fund to acquire movies.
But he didn’t take any concrete steps until 2008, when Kadafi reportedly met Beckerman at a beach on the African island nation of Mauritius. Beckerman, now 34, was a New Jersey native who had run a heavy metal music label but was seeking funding abroad to move into the film business.
While it’s not clear whether Natural Selection truly had $100 million at its disposal — independent film companies commonly exaggerate their funding — the firm had enough going for it to lure big names into its orbit. Its first film, “The Experiment,” starred Oscar winners Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody and was released on DVD last year by Sony Pictures after failing to secure a theatrical release. William Morris Endeavor, one of the industry’s biggest talent agencies, helped to sell Natural Selection’s films while clients from other prominent agencies wrote, directed and appeared in its productions.
People who did business with Natural Selection said Beckerman handled all of the deal-making and was forthcoming about his backer’s identity. In an industry that was eager for money, few questioned taking checks from an autocratic government that had been involved in state-sponsored terrorism. Other nondemocratic countries still prominent in film financing include Dubai and China.
And few people had to deal directly with Kadafi. The Libyan scion’s always-empty chair on the set of “Isolation” appears to have been the closest he got to Natural Selection’s movies outside of appearances at the Toronto, Venice and Cannes film festivals.
Though Natural Selection’s productions were inexpensive — “Isolation” cost less than $1 million to make — people who worked with the company said they were most pleased that unlike many independent film firms, it was able to back up its promises on time with checks that cleared.
By this year, Kadafi had other matters on his mind. He served as a public spokesman for his father to maintain international support for the regime during the recent uprising. In March, the U.S. government added Saadi to a list of Kadafi family members whose assets would be frozen.
A Treasury Department spokeswoman said it was not possible to pinpoint how much of Kadafi’s stake in Natural Selection had been frozen. But Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert on government sanctions, said officials would likely attempt to be precise in their actions.
“They would try to identify how much he had put in and freeze those proceeds so that cash would no longer be available,” Dubowitz said. “But I assume Treasury would not want to stop the distribution of films that have already been produced.”
Beckerman is continuing to produce movies with funds from other investors, including developing an adaptation of “The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer” that has Rourke attached to star. At the producer’s office in a peach-colored mini-mall on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, a suite that previously belonged to Natural Selection is now labeled “Now or Never Films” on a building directory. Beckerman’s music company was called Now or Never Records.
This summer he held meetings with agents about writing a book based on his experience in the music and movie businesses and his partnership with Saadi Kadafi. It’s not clear whether he’ll end up writing it.
Times staff writers Steven Zeitchik in New York and Paul Richter in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.
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