While the growing unrest in Egypt is playing out before us, the recent overthrow of the government of Tunisia is on its way to becoming a feature film. Tarak Ben Ammar will finance and produce a feature about Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian who set himself ablaze to protest unemployment and lack of freedom. His self-sacrfice set off a historic chain of events that led to the Jasmin Revolution and the overthrow of president Zein El-Abedin Ben Ali. Ben Ammar, a nephew of Tunisia’s first independent president Habib Bourguiba, was in Tunisia during the recent revolution because he was there completing production on the Jean-Jacques Annaud-directed Black Gold, the $55 million film which is one of the most expensive films backed by an Arab about an Arab subject. Aside from his film company Quinta Communications, Ben Ammar’s Nessma TV was the first media outlet to break the taboo on freedom of expression when it reported on the demonstrations December 30. Messma executives were threatened with jail. “Mohamed Bouazizi has become a hero for us as Tunisians and the Arab world as a whole,” Ben Ammar said in a statement. “He performed the ultimate self-sacrifice and in doing so he opened up the eyes and heart of a nation to the injustice all around them. He did it by sacrificing himself, not by hurting anyone else.”
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.