Ben Ammar unveils ‘Black Gold’ deals

Warner Bros., Universal among distribs

Quinta Communications topper Tarak Ben Ammar unveiled major studio distribution deals for its $55 million Arab pic “Black Gold” (aka “Black Thirst”) at the Circle Conference in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

Kickstarting the conference with the keynote speech, Ben Ammar told delegates that Warner Bros. and Universal have joined as worldwide partners and distribs on a territory-by-territory basis.

WB will take theatrical rights for the U.K., France, Latin America and the Middle East, while U will distribute in Germany and Spain.

Italian distrib Eagle Vision, which Quinta acquired in 2008, will take rights in Italy. Remaining distribution deals are being finalized for a worldwide Christmas 2011 release.

Ben Ammar also said Antonio Banderas and “A Prophet” star Tahar Rahim will join the cast that includes Mark Strong, Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed and Liya Kebede.

Jean-Jacques Annaud will direct the pic, based on the screenplay by Menno Meyjes (“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”), which follows the rivalry of two young emirs against the backdrop of 1930s Arab states at the peak of the oil boom. It is based on the Hans Ruesch tome “The Great Thirst.”

Pic, which Ben Ammar has been trying to make since he optioned the tome in 1978, begins lensing Monday at his Empire Studios in Tunisia.

Ben Ammar said the backing of the majors repped “the real spirit of the collaboration between the East and West” and urged Abu Dhabi delegates to think consciously about their unions with Hollywood.

He noted that Hollywood majors increasingly made more money internationally than they did theatrically in the U.S., which should encourage backers to look inward and support more local and international productions rather than studio fare.

“If you want to invest in Hollywood films, think strategically, be smarter than the investors who came to Los Angeles before you with only their checkbook open,” Ben Ammar said. “The only ones who have succeeded are those who gave as much support to their own region as they did to Hollywood.”

He cited fests in Abu Dhabi, Doha, Damascus and Dubai as indicating that the region “may be on the cusp of an exciting new age for Arab and Middle Eastern culture — a 21st century renaissance.”

The Circle Conference continues until Friday. The Abu Dhabi Film Festival begins today.

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