Qatar backs Tarak Ben Ammar project

The Doha Film Institute signed up Thursday to co-produce director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s $55 million Arab epic “Black Gold,” alongside Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications.

Pic, which stars Antonio Banderas and Tahar Rahim, is based on Hans Ruesch’s book “The Great Thirst” and is adapted by Menno Meyjes.

As previously reported (Daily Variety, Oct. 13), Warner Bros. has taken theatrical rights for the U.K., France, Latin America and the Middle East, while Universal will distribute in Germany and Spain. Eagle Vision will release the pic in Italy.

It’s DFI’s first involvement in a big-budget production since it unveiled its fund at Cannes in May.

The pic, which began principal photography in Tunisia on Oct. 18, will film its huge battle scenes in January in Qatar. Qatari actors have also been cast in minor roles.

DFI exec director Amanda Palmer told Daily Variety, “‘Black Gold’ will enable us to give Qatar’s young talent experience on a major international production, so that we can train a skilled film community in Doha and then build an infrastructure regionally to capitalize on growing global interest in Arab cinema.”

While DFI gave no figures for its financial contribution, Ben Ammar said, “DFI is a crucial partner in this film. Without the support and vision of Her Excellency Sheikha Mayassa Bint Hamad Al Thani and her DFI team, it would not be possible to bring this epic Arab story to global audiences.”

The film, one of the biggest Arab projects ever made, will be released December 2011.

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