Egyptian billionaire entrepreneur Naguib Sawiris and Franco-Tunisian mogul Tarak Ben Ammar have formed a strategic partnership to produce and distribute a slate of films and TV content for international and Arab audiences with an initial $130 million in capital.
The collaboration in content creation between these two major Arab entrepreneurs follows Ben Ammar’s acquisition in December of Sawiris’ Egyptian TV network ONTV, a bastion of liberal-minded media in Egypt.
Coming at a time when the region is experiencing profound political and cultural turbulence, their production pact has far-reaching implications.
Interestingly, their money does not come from oil and both keep one foot in Europe and one in the Arab world. In keeping with that world view, their production will not only be in Arabic but also in English, Italian, French, Spanish and potentially other languages as well. The pair are in an expansive mode.
Under the deal, Sawiris is completing his acquisition of a 30% stake in Ben Ammar’s Milan-based Quinta Communications Italy media conglomerate, which includes prominent Italo film distributor Eagle Pictures. TV assets include Sportitalia TV and the digital channels on which Silvio Berlusconi’s paybox Mediaset Premium broadcasts, which makes Mediaset a potential outlet for their product.
Besides ONTV, Ben Ammar also owns Tunis-based satcaster Nessma, which is expanding into France. The new content-production venture aims to fuel his ambitions for a pan-Arab TV network with a strong presence in Europe and beyond.
“I have always loved cinema and TV,” says Sawiris, whose money comes from Cairo-based Orascom Telecom Holding, the world’s sixth largest mobile telecommunications provider. “With Tarak, I have finally landed on a partner with whom we can pursue our joint dream.”
The first feature film on their slate is Cairo-set, Arabic-language thriller “Beretta,” written and directed by first-time Qatari filmmaker Sophia Al-Maria. Pic is being described as a Tarantino-esque revenge pic with a kick-ass female heroine, to be played by up-and-coming Egyptian actress May Calamawy (“Find ’Em Frankie”). It’s also being touted as the first Arab feature in recent memory with a female action hero at a time when there has been renewed focus on the subject of female harassment and violence against women in Egypt.
“Beretta is exactly the kind of content we want to produce moving forward,” said Ben Ammar. “We have the opportunity to make an iconic Arab feature film, which will also be relevant and entertaining to audiences across the world. It’s edgy, hip, universal and addresses an important issue in an original way. It also pleases me to support a wonderful creative voice from the Arab world in Sophia.”
Peter Webber (“Girl With a Pearl Earring,” “Hannibal Rising” “Emperor”) is co-producing. Principal photography begins in September on location in Cairo and Tunis.
Ben Ammar is a board member and shareholder of the Weinstein Co. In September last year he inaugurated the production facility Studios de Paris, built in partnership with Luc Besson.
Last year Ben Ammar co-produced Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki’s “Where Do We Go Now?” Quinta’s other productions include Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Black Gold,” Rachid Bouchareb’s “Outside the Law” and Randa Chahal’s “The Kite.”