National Geographic Entertainment and Imagenation Abu Dhabi have joined Exclusive Media Group and Spitfire Pictures to produce Peter Weir’s second world war escape thriller The Way Back.

This is National Geographic Entertainment and Imagenation Abu Dhabi’s first collaboration using the $100m fund they announced last October to develop, produce, finance and acquire ten to 15 films over five years.

Principal photography has begun in Bulgaria on the project, which stars Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Saoirse Ronan and Colin Farrell and is inspired by Slavomir Rawicz’s novel The Long Walk: The True Story Of A Trek To Freedom and other accounts.

The story follows a small group of prisoners who broke out of a Siberian gulag in 1940 and trekked thousands of miles to freedom across five hostile countries. Exclusive Media Group’s sales arm Exclusive Film Distribution is handling worldwide sales.

Spitfire Pictures is producing for parent company Exclusive Media Group, which combines Spitfire and London-based Hammer Films and is backed by the strategic investment group Cyrte Investments.

Exclusive Media Group is run by Nigel Sinclair, Guy East and Simon Oakes, with Sinclair and Oakes serving as co-chairmen and co-CEOs out of Los Angeles and London, respectively, and East as president and chairman of the sales and distribution operation.

Imagenation Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi Media Company CEO Edward Borgerding hailed the first project with National Geographic and called Weir “one of the great directors working today.”

National Geographic Films Chairman Jake Eberts said Rawicz’s book was “one of the great escape stories of all time”, adding: “It has thrills and excitement in epic and unusual settings, but ultimately it is about strong-willed people fighting to connect with each other while yearning for peace and home.”

“My colleague Guy East, Jake Eberts and I have a long and happy history of working on movies together, and we are proud and excited to have Tim Kelly and Adam Leipzig at National Geographic and Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei and Edward Borgerding at Imagenation Abu Dhabi as partners on Peter’s film,” Sinclair said.