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Ben Ammar was on the Tunisian set of Quinta’s $55m Black Gold when the popular uprising began

threatened to shut us down and also to send the station’s general manager to prison, but we per- sisted. The authorities ultimately didn’t dare to take action against us because they knew I had legitimacy — fi rstly, through my ties to found- ing president, Habib Bourguiba, and secondly because I had brought so much work over the years to my country through fi lm and TV pro- ductions. Also because they knew that one of my partners was Mediaset, a major European media company.”

Q The newly empowered youth movements across the Arab world will want their own

stories being told on the screen. Will the inde- pendent fi lm-makers from the Arab world we see at festivals now become a force in their local en- tertainment industries? And given fi nanciers’ natural aversion to uncertainty, how long will it take for capital to back a new entertainment in- frastructure? TBA “It reminds me of the time I was a student in the US during the late 1960s. It was the time of ‘I’m Black and I’m proud’. I think that’s rele- vant to Tunisia and Egypt. We’re seeing the youth there saying, “I’m Arab and I’m proud.” It has become hip now to be Arab, which, let’s be honest, it hasn’t been for some time. “The big question remains where is the mar-

ket for these emerging Arab fi lm-makers. We need to create a much more robust domestic market for Arab fi lms, which certainly already exists for Egyptian fi lm-makers but far less so for fi lm-makers from other parts of the region,

as well as ensure the quality and vision of these films is good enough to translate and export internationally. “Obviously Quinta is investing in Arab fi lms,

as this is important for us. You also have fi nan- ciers in the region, such as the Doha Film Insti- tute [in Qatar], who are making positive contributions. “When I fi rst wanted to make Black Gold 30

years ago, I had interest from one of the major American studios — Paramount. One of the questions they asked me then was, why didn’t I have any Arab money on board? At that time, in the late 1970s, we had seen the fi rst big boom in Gulf petro-dollars so it seemed this would be a region rife with potential investors. “Though I was still a young man without a

big reputation in the fi lm business, I had access, thanks to my family, to some of the most impor- tant people in this region. I met with a number of important people. I kept getting the same quizzical look and the response, ‘You cannot be serious.’ “The name of the game back then was bank-

ing, real estate, oil, gas and defence. More than 30 years later, I asked myself, ‘Have things changed? Are they still interested only in oil and gas, real estate and armaments? Or have they begun to see the value and importance of cul- ture and the media?’ “The fact the Doha Film Institute is partner

and co-producer on Black Gold, a film filled with Arab heroes and histories on an interna- tional scale, is a measure of how things are

changing and will continue to change for the better in the weeks, months and years ahead.”

Q From what I have read, if the Arab world had more presidents like your uncle, Habib Bour-

guiba, we might have seen far more gradual transi- tions and far less of the popular anger, even allow- ing for the very different times we now live in. TBA “I will never forget how my uncle would tell me in private how happy he was Tunisia didn’t have any oil or gas. He would tell me it allowed him to convince the youth of Tunisia they had to work hard and earn their place. That was a les- son I learned myself as I was seeking to forge ahead with my career as a fi lm producer. “Bourguiba placed an emphasis on giving

women constitutionally enshrined equality, and ensuring Tunisian youth had [access to] good education. Those are the foundations of modern Tunisia and why I’m so hopeful about Tunisia’s future as it makes the transition to democracy. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Tuni-

sia and Egypt, the two countries where we have seen revolutions this year, do not have oil. The real wealth in those countries is not in their soil but in the young people who walk on its land. They are the ones who will build their countries. That is exactly the question we ask in Black Gold and why the events of this year in the Arab world have made the fi lm so timely — the fi lm asks the question whether oil is a blessing or a curse. “I still don’t think we have a defi nitive answer

to that question, more than 70 years after we fi rst discovered oil in the Arab world.” 

s May 18, 2011 Screen International at the Cannes Film Festival 23 ■

■ Ben Ammar created Carthago Films in Tunisia in 1974. It serviced high- profi le shoots in the country including The Life Of Brian, Star Wars and Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Ben Ammar went on to invest and produce his own fi lms; his credits include La Traviata, Femme Fatale, Hannibal Rising and the upcoming Black Gold.

■ In 1990, Ben Ammar created Paris-based Quinta Communications in partnership with Silvio Berlusconi. Initially a production entity, Quinta moved into rights trading and distribution, releasing The Passion Of The Christ in France in 2004.

■ In 1995, Ben Ammar became a board member of Berlusconi’s Mediaset.

■ In 2005, Ben Ammar invested $42.7m (€30m) in The Weinstein Company and joined its board. He acquired Italy’s Eagle Pictures in 2007.

■ In 2007, he opened LTC-Gammarth labs and post-production in Tunisia. Two years later, he launched North African satellite network Nessma TV with Mediaset and the Karoui Group.

■ Ben Ammar’s digital post- production facilities empire in France includes Duran Duboi, Les Audis de Joinville and a 43% stake in the venerable Eclair Group.

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