Cannes competition player “Outside the Law,” from Rachid Bouchareb, and Julian Schnabel’s Venice-tipped “Miral,” rep the kind of movie Quinta topper Tarak Ben Ammar loves to get involved with.
On “Law,” Quinta has a 10% equity stake and distribution rights for Italy and Tunisia. Pic was produced by StudioCanal, and Jean Brehat and Bouchareb’s Tessalit Prods, and is being sold internationally by StudioCanal.
Among the many places it lensed — France, Algeria, Belgium, Germany, the U.N. — was Ben Ammar’s de Ben Arous Studios in Tunisia.
Produced by Schnabel’s longtime producer Jon Kilik and financed by Pathe, which has worldwide rights, “Miral” is co-produced and will be distributed in Italy by Ben Ammar, via Eagle Pics.
“It’s the subject matter, the quality subject matter,” says Ben Ammar, explaining his admiration for both films. “And directors expressing themselves on historical issues, resolved or unresolved.”
Bouchareb’s big breakout was “Days of Glory,” an Arab-world “Band of Brothers” with political attitude, which won a foreign-language Oscar nom for Algeria, grossed $21 million in Gaul, and persuaded then-French president Jacques Chirac to increase pensions for Maghrebi World War II vets.
Ben Ammar “was almost ready to go with us on ‘Days of Glory.’ This time he said, ‘I want to be in and help you.’ And he did that very well,” says Brehat.
On “Law,” one of StudioCanal’s flagship productions for 2010, shooting at de Ben Arous was “infinitesimally cheaper” than elsewhere, allowing “Law” to put more value on the screen, says Brehat.
“Tarak Ben Ammar cut us a great deal by not charging us normal prices. They were were 10 times cheaper than anywhere else,” Brehat says.
There are several reasons for this. Ben Ammar is a patriotic internationalist who loves bringing work to his native Tunisia and aiding, in large or small ways, those prestige films presenting a different vision of the Arab world.
“When I was young, I heard John F. Kennedy say, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country,’?” says Ben Ammar. “That stayed with me ever since and has guided me throughout my career. That’s why I’ve always wanted to give back to Tunisia even as I was building my company in Europe.”
Also, there’s “Law” itself. Pic is ?22 million ($30 million) upscale mainstream entertainment, a “gangster-style movie in the vein of ‘Heat,’ ” says Brehat. StudioCanal will release pic on Sept. 22 in France on a wide, 500-print run.
The Algerian War of Independence forms “a subplot,” Brehat says.
But that’s partly what fires Ben Ammar up.
In Ben Ammar’s opinion, “the Americans have had the courage to confront their history in movies. For France, the Algerian War of Independence has been a taboo.”
Ben Ammar is also passionate about the Kilik-Pathe produced “Miral,” set against the background of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
“Julian Schnabel, an American artist and long-time supporter of Israel, came to the unshakeable conclusion while making the film that dialogue and peace between the Israelis and Palestinians was not only necessary but also the only way forward,” says Ben Ammar.
Ben Ammar’s “involvement in ‘Miral’ is more than that of a businessman. It has to do with him as a human being,” says Schnabel.
For Ben Ammar, on occasions, business is not just business. It’s also an affair of the heart.