'Gold' star Banderas to return to country this week

The turmoil in Tunisia is not affecting the shoot of Jean-Jacques Annaud’s epic “Black Gold,” toplining Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto, which will wrap its Tunisian production on schedule this week.

A spokesman for Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications — which is producing the drama about the relationship between oil and Islam in Arab countries — said the unrest that led to the overthrow of the country’s longtime president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, had caused a “two-day delay, with just two interior scenes left.”

Banderas, who flew out of Tunisia last week on business, will return this week for his final scene at Quinta’s studios outside Hammamet, one of the towns where there have been riots. Pinto has remained on location.

Warner Bros. and Universal are sharing territories on the timely “Black Gold,” described by Ben Ammar as about the conflict between modernity and tradition in the region.

Ben Ammar, who is the nephew of Tunisia’s first president Habib Bourguiba, owns a stake in Tunis-based satcaster Nessma TV, which was the first local media outlet to air news on the escalating protests.

He welcomes the developments as fostering democracy in Tunisia. “My Nessma was the first media outlet to break the taboo on freedom of expression in Tunisia when we aired a special report on the demonstrations in Sidi Bou Said on Dec. 30,” Ben Ammar said in a statement posted Tuesday on his Facebook page. “We aired the show uncensored and unedited. As a result we were threatened with being shut down by the former president and my general manager was threatened with jail.

“But we stood firm because we believed that the people of Tunisia, North Africa and the rest of the world deserved to see the truth.

“We were also the first station to host free and uncensored debates on the future of the country, even while the former government was still in place. It was unprecedented for an Arab channel to have such coverage, with no taboos, no censorship, no agenda and no lies.”

Nessma, which means “gentle breeze” in Arabic, was launched in 2007 by Tunisian media businessmen Nabil and Ghazi Karoui. Ben Ammar and Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset provided a crucial boost by each buying a 25% chunk in 2008. The Karoui brothers retain 50%.

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