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Tunisia’s Mohamed Ben Attia to Direct New ISIS-Themed Drama (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 7/4/2017 Nick Vivarelli
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ROME – Tunisian auteur Mohamed Ben Attia, whose first feature “Hedi” won best debut and best actor honors at the 2016 Berlin Film Festival, is set to shoot a timely drama titled “Weldi,” about a Tunisian father coming to terms with his son joining ISIS. Paris-based Luxbox has come on board to handle world sales outside France.

Shooting is expected to start in October in Tunisia on “Weldi,” which like “Hedi” is being produced by Tunisian producer Dora Bouchoucha’s Nomadis Images, with Belgium’s Dardenne brothers as co-producers through their Les Films du Fleuve shingle. France’s BAC Films has boarded as the film’s French distributor.

Further financing is being provided by the Tunisian Ministry of Culture, France’s Aide aux Cinémas du Monde fund, and the Doha Film Institute. Bouchocha (pictured, left) said she is hoping to close a TV pre-sale on the pic soon.

In his first interview about “Weldi,” Ben Attia (pictured, right) said that the film’s main character is “an ordinary man whose whole life has been dedicated to his work and to his son.” Although he must grapple with his son’s choice to become an Islamic militant, “the film is not about ISIS, nor about the reasons that lead our youth to leave,” Ben Attia said. Rather, it’s about “the meaning of being a father.”

Ben Attia said that while he was prepping “Hedi,” which centers on a young man liberated from family and societal obligations by a free-spirited woman in post-Arab Spring Tunisia, he was struck by a radio report on “a father who had left to look for his son in Syria.”

At the time, Tunisian youths joining ISIS had started to become a common occurrence – “nearly banal,” Ben Attia said. “But what moved me in his story was the end or disappearance of his paternity.”

Casting for “Weldi” is underway. Ben Attia said that, as with “Hedi,” he would “mostly choose non-professional actors or even people who are not related to cinema.”

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