Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications has brought the Doha Film Institute aboard as a co-producer of Black Gold, the Jean-Jacques Annaud-directed feature that began production in Tunisia on October 18. DFI, making its first foray into a major international feature production, will provide a mix of equity, services and locations. Even though the $55 million picture is directed by a French helmer, Black Gold is shaping up to be groundbreaking for a film that is back by Arabs with subject matter about them. An adaptation of the Hans Reusch novel The Great Thirst, Black Gold stars Antonio Banderas, Tahar Rahim, Mark Strong, Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed and Liya Kebede. The drama is about the rivalry between two Emirs in Arabia in the 1930s, just as oil is being discovered, and the rise of a young dynamic leader who unites the various tribes of the desert kingdoms. The film is being earmarked for Christmas, 2011 release, and Warner Bros has signed on to distribute in France, UK, Latin America and the Middle East, while Universal Pictures International will release it in Germany and Spain and Quinta’s Eagle Pictures has Italy.

“One of the goals of Doha Film Institute is to support and showcase Arab storytellers and expand the reach of Arab films globally,” said DFI executive director Amanda Palmer. “Since our launch five months ago, we have been looking for film financing opportunities that provide unique educational experiences to Qatari youth, and it was important for us to find a production to film here. Black Gold will enable us to give Qatar’s young talent hands-on experience on a major international production, so that we can train and develop a skilled film community here in Doha and then build an infrastructure regionally to capitalize on growing global interest in Arab cinema.”