Tarak Ben Ammar and Tunisia, an affair of the heart
He brings the North to the South


Tarak Ben Ammar was born on 12 June 1949 in Tunis. His mother is French, of Corsican origin, and emigrated to Tunisia. Born a catholic, she converted to Islam. His father was first a lawyer before becoming a Tunisian diplomat. Tarak is the nephew of Wassila Bourguiba, wife of President Habib Bourguiba.

"Childhood is important because of what it gives us in terms of experience for the future. I was brought up in a non-religious, pacific environment. We were respectful of religions, celebrated their holy days. Bourguiba represented non-sectarianism, freedom of women, the right to divorce, the fight against fanaticism... I was immediately exposed to the culture of others, without preconceived ideas..."

His family, which formed part of the "petite bourgeoisie", belonged to the elite classes, well off without being rich. At the age of 9, his father enrolled him in the American School: one of his children must speak English. At 13, Tarak is sent to boarding school in Rome. Every Saturday, he watches four English-language films. It is also here that he discovered the works of future major directors that he would later produce: Roberto Rossellini with Roma, Città Aperta, Dino de Laurentiis...


After having obtained a degree in international economy at the University of Georgetown, Washington, Tarak Ben Ammar returned to Tunisia in 1970. "I had a predestined career, that of diplomat, a perspective that bored me terribly. I had been too close to the world of politics and knew that I really didn’t like it. It was the audiovisual industry that interested me. Not necessarily film making, it could have been advertising or journalism. I was fascinated to see the facility with which the Americans could sell us a bottle of Coca-Cola and almost give it a soul.."


On returning from the United States, Tarak Ben Ammar set off to discover Tunisia, where in the end he had not spent much of his life, only going there for vacations. It was a revelation: "What a beautiful country!", "What friendly people!", "A real movie backdrop!" ... The young man, accompanied by his girlfriend, took a car and left to film the landscape with a Super 8 camera... Desert, sea, palm trees, sun everywhere: almost 156,000 km² of natural decor!

Under the pressure of family traditions, Tarak feels that he has the obligation to serve his country: "What can I do that will give me a career, independence from my family and serve my country? It is at that moment that the idea of cinema came to me. I had to promote Tunisia, as the Spanish and Italians had done for their countries." His family was, of course, against it. "It was really as if I had said in the US: 'I don’t want to go to Harvard, I want to become an entertainer on Broadway.' My parents were in a state of shock. Theoretically, they were right."


Tarak Ben Ammar learned his trade, without money, without contacts. He travelled the world, distributing business cards and tourist leaflets with enthusiasm and conviction. "I would say: 'Come and visit this politically stable, friendly country, where there are no extremists, with extraordinary decors and close to Europe, modern hotel infrastructures...' A real salesman: 'You want desert? You want Club Med?'" His aim is simple but ambitious: "Put Tunisia on the world film map" First customer: a small Italian producer that would like to discover the country in question.