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Ben Ammar on board for De Laurentiis pic trio

PARIS — Tarak Ben Ammar has boarded three Dino De Laurentiis projects with budgets totaling $200 million — the Hannibal Lecter prequel “Behind the Mask,” “The Decameron” and “The Last Legion.”

In a major deal for the Paris-based producer and media broker, Ben Ammar’s company Quinta will minority co-produce the roughly $100 million “Mask” and distribute it in France and possibly other European territories.

Quinta will 50-50 co-produce the roughly $40 million “The Decameron” and also handle the roughly $60 million Franco-Italian pic “The Last Legion.” Both will go into production next year. Foreign sales will be handled jointly, Ben Ammar said.

“Tarak’s an old friend. We’ve known each other for 30 years,” De Laurentiis told Daily Variety on Monday. “I don’t need him and he doesn’t need me — that’s why we are fantastic partners.”

The cast and final budgets on all three movies are yet to be finalized, De Laurentiis said, adding that buyers at the recent American Film Market had been enthusiastic about “Mask.”

“But with the weakness of the dollar against the euro it is not a good idea to rush things,” the producer said.

Tracing the life of the young Hannibal Lecter and to be helmed by Peter Webber, “Mask” will be shot in France and Lithuania next summer and could be post produced in France or the U.K., depending on co-production requirements.

Webber is scouting locations in Lithuania, Hannibal Lecter’s birthplace in the book by Thomas Harris, who has also penned the script.

Based on Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th century eponymous literary classic, “The Decameron” will be helmed by David Leland and shoot in Florence next April. “The Last Legion,” adapted from a novel set during the Roman Empire by Valerio Massimo Manfredi, will be helmed by Doug Lefler and lensed at Ben Ammar’s Tunisian studios and in Slovakia in May.

Quinta will release the movies in France via its new theatrical distribution company, whose first release was Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

“These are exactly the kind of high-quality commercial independent films I am looking to board as a co-producer and financier,” Ben Ammar said Monday.

He also fully financed Martha Fiennes’ $13 million “Chromophobia,” which stars Penelope Cruz and a clutch of Brit thesps including Ralph Fiennes, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ian Holm and Rhys Ifans.

Over the past two years, Ben Ammar has acquired some of France’s key f/x and post-production facilities, and he recently forged a Gallic partnership with Technicolor likely to give him the market lead in printmaking in France.

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