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.”
Warner Bros and Universal are sharing territories on Tunisian entrepreneur Tarak Ben Ammar’s next feature Black Gold. The story revolves around the rivalry between Arabian rulers 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. Filming begins in Tunisia on October 18, with shooting taking place in Ben Ammar’s Empire Studios and on location in Tunisia. Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), Mark Strong (Sherlock Holmes), Freida Pinto (Slumdog Millionaire), Riz Ahmed and Liya Kebede star along with Banderas. Jean-Jacques Annaud (Enemy at the Gate, Seven Years In Tibet) will direct, based on the screenplay by Menno Meyjes (Empire of the Sun, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Warner will distribute in France, the UK, Latin America and the Middle East. Universal Pictures International (UPI) is releasing the film in Germany and Spain. Quinta Communications’ Eagle Pictures is handling distribution in Italy. Quinta says remaining territories are being finalised for a worldwide Christmas 2011 release. Ben Ammar, who sits on the board of The Weinstein Company, most recently co-produced Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law.