EXCLUSIVE: Big news on the MLK movie front. Paramount is in final negotiations to acquire domestic distribution rights to Selma, a feature drama about Martin Luther King‘s 1965 landmark voting rights campaign regarded as the peak of the civil rights movement, and none other than Oprah Winfrey has boarded the project as producer. Paramount is tying down U.S. and Canadian distribution rights to the film. Ava DuVernay, who came aboard the project in July, rewrote the original script by Paul Webb and slipped it to Winfrey, who sparked to DuVernay’s rewrite. We’ve been waiting for a strong cinematic tribute to the iconic civil rights leader, and this remarkably becomes the second MLK project that Winfrey is involved with. Her Harpo also is behind a seven-part HBO miniseries America: In the King Years. Selma is on a much faster track. The plan is to get rolling in front of cameras as soon as possible. Lining up a domestic deal and a name of Winfrey’s caliber were key to getting the ball rolling, and when the deal makes production is expected to start right away. Pathe UK, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and Christian Colson are already aboard as producers.
Winfrey’s presence both on and off the screen was a big reason Lee Daniels’ The Butler traveled so well overseas. The Butler has grossed $167.7 million to date — more than $50M of that internationally. This gives Selma a leg up on the other two major features that are percolating. Oliver Stone last month saw a script rewrite on his MLK biopic rejected by DreamWorks and Warner Bros, and it caused him to back out of the project. Meanwhile, Paul Greengrass still isn’t ready to move on his biopic Memphis that he plans to make with Scott Rudin.
Netflix‘s Ted Sarandos will headline the 9th annual confab hosted by Film Independent with an October 26 Executive Keynote speech addressing “the possibilities and the risks ahead for filmmakers in this new media age.” The nonprofit org which also produces the LA Film Festival and the Film Independent Spirit Awards has also tapped filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Middle Of Nowhere) to deliver its Filmmaker Keynote the following day. The 2013 edition, held over the October 25-27 weekend, kicks off with a Dallas Buyers Club screening and Q&A.
EXCLUSIVE: I’ve learned that writer-director Ava DuVernay has been set by Pathe UK, Brad Pitt’s Plan B and producer Christian Colson to helm Selma, a feature drama about Martin Luther King‘s 1965 landmark voting rights campaign regarded as the peak of the civil rights movement. She reportedly has been scouting locations and fine-tuning the script with screenwriter Paul Webb since April, and the producers are eager to get rolling in front of camera before similar MLK-themed projects can do the same. DuVernay was the first black woman to win Best Director at Sundance for her second feature, last year’s drama Middle Of Nowhere. The former publicist apparently was approached by the Selma producers after they saw the microbudgeted indie, which was shot in 19 days in and around LA. She will reunite with her Middle Of Nowhere leading man David Oyelowo (The Butler, Lincoln), who is set to play King in Selma. DuVernay in repped by Paradigm.
In a season dominated by splashy studio fare from relatively mainstream directors, the quiet African-American focusedMiddle Of Nowhere is something of an anomaly. Shot in just 19 days in and around Los Angeles, the microbudgeted film about a woman who works to earn her nursing degree while dealing with a husband in prison is the second feature from former publicist Ava DuVernay, who started her filmmaking career just five years ago at age 35. Not only did DuVernay write and direct the feature—which has earned three Independent Spirit Award nominations, plus a breakthrough Gotham Award for star Emayatzy Corinealdi—but she launched her own film collective, AFFRM, to distribute. On the eve of a new year, and in the middle of moving, DuVernay took time to speak with AwardsLine about her work as a businesswoman and as a filmmaker.
EXCLUSIVE: This year’s Sundance Film Festival best director Ava DuVernay is helming an in-depth documentary that explores tennis star Venus Williams’ fight for fair pay at Wimbledon. Entitled Venus VS, the project is directed by DuVernay who is producing with Howard Barish. Robin Roberts and Jane Rosenthal are executive producers. Venus VS is part of ESPN Films’ Nine for IX, a series of films covering the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the 1972 federal legislation that mandated equal opportunities for female athletes. Venus VS will be broadcast on ESPN in 2013. DuVernay will be at the Toronto Film Festival where her Sundance winner Middle Of Nowhere will screen next week prior to opening in theaters October 12 via AFFRM and Participant Media.