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CNN exclusive: Hollywood cameras roll through Tunisian revolution

By Neil Curry, CNN
  • Hollywood A-list star Antonio Banderas was shooting a movie in Tunisia
  • The cast and crew of "Black Gold" kept working even as protests and clashes increased
  • Tunisia has been the locale for shots in major movies in recent decades
  • Films have included "Star Wars," "The English Patient," and "Raiders of the Lost Ark"
  • Tunisia
  • Freida Pinto
  • Antonio Banderas
  • Movies

Tunis, Tunisia (CNN) -- Hollywood A-listers Antonio Banderas and Freida Pinto kept working on a new movie in Tunisia even as the country was beset by turmoil and protests, and its president fled to Saudi Arabia.

The actors were shooting a film on location near Hammamet -- one of the towns caught up in rioting and looting.

The film "Black Gold" is a drama set in Arabia during the 1930s when oil was discovered -- a watershed development for the entire region.

Its stars include Banderas, Pinto, Mark Strong and French-Algerian actor Tahar Rahim and is directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud -- veteran of such films as "The Name of the Rose", "Enemy at the Gates" and "Seven Years in Tibet."

CNN's feature show "Inside the Middle East" was shooting an exclusive feature on the making of the film when the unrest escalated around the country -- four days before President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia.

At the time, the cast and crew expressed concern about the developments but were determined to continue with the production.

When asked whether, as an international actor, he was concerned about working in Tunisia, Banderas told CNN:

"Yes. Of course. I hope that everything comes to terms. I hope that both sides -- in the problems that they're having right now -- have an open hand to understand each other's position, and I hope that they start believing very much in the young people because these are the people that are going to be running this country in the future. They have to believe in them they have to bat for them."

The crew was still shooting during the dramatic developments last Friday and continued the following day. A spokesman said the actors followed events on TV and on the internet, and were offered the chance to leave but decided to stay. He said the overseas actors were concerned for their Tunisian colleagues but there was no panic.

Banderas flew to France for business reasons but planned to return to the set on Thursday to wrap filming in Tunisia.

The lavish set is part of Empire Studios, the brainchild of Tarak Ben Ammar, the biggest name in Tunisian cinema and a producer on many films including "The Last Legion" and Monty Python's "Life of Brian." He's also a nephew of Tunisia's first president, Habib Bourgiba -- the man replaced by Ben Ali 23 years ago.

Ben Ammar welcomed the developments as a great opportunity for democracy in Tunisia and hoped his country -- which provided the locations for "Star Wars," "The English Patient" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" -- would remain a popular destination for international movie-makers in the future.