The Doha Film Institute has come on board to co-produce the big-budget epic Black Gold, which is being produced by Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications.

This is the DFI’s first investment in a major international film. The Institute was launched earlier this year and unveiled in Cannes.

Black Gold has a budget of about $55m; the amount of financing provided by DFI was not revealed.

The project started shooting in and around Ben Ammar’s Empire Studios on Oct 18. It will also shoot on location in Qatar next year.

Warner Bros will distribute in France, the UK, Latin America and the Middle East; Universal Pictures International will distribute in Germany and Spain; and Quinta’s Eagle Pictures will distribute in Italy.

Remaining distribution deals are currently being finalised for a worldwide launch during the holiday season 2011.

As previously reported, the film stars Antonio Banderas, Tahar Rahim, Mark Strong, Freida Pinto, Riz Ahmed and Liya Kebede. The epic adventure is an adaptation of Hans Reusch’s The Great Thirst, about two rival Emirs in 1930s Arabia.

Jean-Jacques Annaud will direct based on the screenplay by Menno Meyjes. Annaud co-wrote the story with Alain Godard.

Ben Ammar, who is attending and speaking at the current Doha Tribeca Film Festival, said: “I am delighted that the Doha Film Institute will be my partners in bringing this epic story of Arab heroism and nobility to audiences around the world. When I first tried to make this film over 30 years ago, I could not find any Arab partners who shared my belief that culture and cinema was a priority. Now, thanks to the inspirational vision of H.E. Sheikha Mayassa Bint Hamad Al Thani and her team at the Doha Film Institute, I can see how much has changed and that progress is real.”

Amanda Palmer, Executive Director of DFI, added: “One of the goals of DFI is to support and showcase Arab storytellers and expand the reach of Arab films globally. Since our launch five months ago, we have been looking for film financing opportunities that provide unique educational experiences to Qatari youth, and it was important for us to find a production to film here. Black Gold will enable us to give Qatar’s young talent hands-on experience
on a major international production, so that we can train and develop a skilled film community here in Doha and then build an infrastructure regionally to capitalise on growing global interest in Arab cinema.”

Quinta is also in Doha with Miral and Outside the Law.