Annaud quenches ‘Black Thirst’

Director takes on Arab regional history

Of all the current projects on the Quinta slate, none is as high profile as “Black Thirst,” with Jean-Jacques Annaud attached to direct.

Set in the 1930s Arab states at the dawn of the oil boom, “Thirst” is a €40 million ($54 million) “big-budget, big, big epic with a lot of action, planes, tanks, trains and thousands of extras,” says Quinta topper Tarak Ben Ammar.

Most important, says Ben Ammar, “it charts the relationship between oil and Islam in Arabia and the clash between modernity and tradition which shaped the region for decades to come.”

“Thirst” is being adapted by Annaud and Menno Meyjes from the 1957 novel “Arab” (aka “The Great Thirst”) by Hans Ruesch.

Story turns, as oil hunger sets in, on a young Arab prince torn between allegiance to his conservative father and modern, liberal father-in-law.

Ben Ammar first optioned the novel in 1978, he says.

“Not since ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ has there been a picture like this of the Arabian Peninsula,” Ben Ammar says.

“The themes are still very alive: Is oil an advantage? Which countries have used it intelligently? Which have been able to stay faithful to their culture, religion, yet modern at the same time?”

Ben Ammar will produce and finance “Thirst.” Pic will also draw coin from an undisclosed Middle East investor.

“Thirst” will shoot for 12 weeks at Ben Ammar’s Hammamet studios in Tunisia and four weeks in an Arab state, he says.

Epic will be introduced to buyers at Cannes.

Ruesch has been adapted before for the bigscreen: Eskimo drama “Top of the World” was made over by Nicholas Ray as “The Savage Innocents,” which played in competition at 1960’s Cannes.

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