x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Tarak Ben Ammar surveys Gulf opportunities

The Tunisian media tycoon and film producer has urged Middle East states to help finance more Arab cinema.

Harrison Ford uses a theodolite in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was partly filmed in Tunisia.
Harrison Ford uses a theodolite in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark, which was partly filmed in Tunisia.

The Tunisian media tycoon and film producer Tarak Ben Ammar plans to boost his associations with media companies in the Gulf and has urged Middle East states to help finance more Arab cinema.

Mr Ben Ammar, who has just signed an international distribution deal for his Arabian epic Black Gold, yesterday addressed the opening of The Circle Conference in Abu Dhabi, which is focused on film financing and production.

Mr Ben Ammar has worked with such film luminaries as George Lucas, who chose Tunisia as a location for shooting blockbusters including Stars Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Today, Mr Ben Ammar's primary interest is Arab cinema. With this in mind, he says he plans to boost his associations with media companies in the Gulf. "This is an area that I'm not ignoring. I'll probably be announcing something in the next couple of weeks tied in with the Gulf," he said.

"It would be filming, either films or television series. We want to co-operate and co-produce with [Gulf media companies]." Mr Ben Ammar said he hoped to expand co-production activities with the Saudi-owned broadcaster MBC. He also said he was exploring ties with Rotana, the media conglomerate owned by his "dear friend", the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Mr Ben Ammar called on Gulf countries to help filmmakers tell stories about the Arab world.

"As Arabs and media professionals based in the Arab world, we have a duty, some might even say a moral obligation, to get our stories and points of view out to the world through films and TV programmes. "In an age when we see Islamophobia actually rising, we have a responsibility to provide a counterbalance, a different point of view," he said. "I hope in 10 years there will be half Arab movies in the multiplexes, and half western movies. If they're not, we really have a problem."

Mr Ben Ammar announced at the conference that his company, Quinta Communications, had signed a deal with Warner Bros and Universal Pictures for the multi-territory distribution of Black Gold, which will cost US$55 million (Dh202m) to make. He bought the rights in 1978. The movie, which begins filming at Mr Ben Ammar's studios in Tunisia on Monday, tells the story of the rivalry between two emirs in 1930s Arabia, just as oil is being discovered.

The film, set for release late next year, stars Antonio Banderas, Tahar Rahim and Freida Pinto. "It is an adaptation of a book I first optioned in 1978 by Hans Ruesch called The Great Thirst," Mr Ben Ammar told the conference. "Not since Lawrence of Arabia has a film dealt with the Arab world in such a manner."

Quinta Communications, which has operations in film and TV production and distribution, was founded in 1990 by Mr Ben Ammar in association with Silvio Berlusconi. The Italian prime minister's family remain shareholders in the business.

Mr Ben Ammar's other business interests include production studios in Tunisia and France and the Nessma TV network.

bflanagan@thenational.ae