Samuel Goldwyn Films and director Larysa Kondracki have finally been given a date for a United Nations screening and panel discussion on The Whistleblower, the drama about sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia that occurred under the watch of UN peacekeepers. The screening will take place tomorrow at 3:30 PM. Kondracki will take part in the panel discussion along with Madeleine Rees, former UN rights lawyer and secretary of the Women’s International League For Peace And Freedom (played in the film by Vanessa Redgrave); Susana Malcorra, Under Secretary General, Department of Field Support; and Anne-Marie Orler, Police Adviser, Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The screening and discussion is being hosted by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The screening will be attended by member states and UN staff.
After months of back and forth, the United Nations has told director Larysa Kondracki that her controversial film The Whistleblower will be given a special screening at UN headquarters on the week of Oct. 10. After the screening, a panel discussion will address the issue of sex trafficking in post-war Bosnia. It’s an embarrassing chapter for the UN, as the film depicts UN peacekeepers not only turning a blind eye to the trafficking of women forced into prostitution in post-war Bosnia, but actually assisting in the transport of sex slaves over the border and into unimaginable hellholes. This latest development comes as a surprise to Kondracki, who has lobbied for months to bring her cautionary tale to the UN. The film stars Rachel Weisz as Kathryn Bolkovac, an American police officer who takes a job as UN peacekeeper in Bosnia and not only was shocked to discover the sexual enslavement of young girls, but that UN peacekeepers and private contractors were major customers. Given diplomatic immunity by the State Department when they hired on, the men were never punished for their complicity in the criminal enterprise. Bolkovac, on the other hand, was excoriated and blackballed for exposing the scandal.
Samuel Goldwyn Films began slowly rolling out the film two weeks ago, and Kondracki initially got a frosty response from the UN. She figured out why when she was slipped an internal UN memo, which she shared with me and which indicated how conflicted senior advisers were over whether to embrace the film or run from it. “After the film premiered and there was quite a bit of press, that’s when I was given the memo by someone who works for the UN and we heard they were going the damage-control route,” Kondracki told me. “I wrote the Secretary General, sent him the DVD, and said they were making the wrong decision.”
With the recent announcement of selections for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Rachel Weisz discovered she is going to be there with two films: The Deep Blue Sea and Fernando Meirelles’ ensembler 360. But it was her acclaimed performance in another Toronto film — from the 2010 fest — that she most wanted to discuss when I recently caught up with her.
After its 2010 Toronto premiere, buzz started on awards prospects for The Whistleblower star Weisz’s intense and emotional performance. But after the fest, filmmakers went back into editing and toned down the harrowing rape scenes and further shaped the movie, which finally gets released today through the Samuel Goldwyn Company, which hopes the awards buzz will pick up again, especially if the distributor can get any box office traction in a crowded marketplace for small movies like this one.
Although it received mixed reviews after its Toronto unveiling, there was near-unanimous praise for Weisz’s portrayal of real-life Nebraska cop Kathryn Bolkovac, who took a job as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia only to uncover a web of corruption, sex trafficking and United Nations cover-ups when she arrived there in 1999. The real story turned out to be too intense to show the way it really was. “In fact the rape scene was cut down after the Toronto screening by the studio, which I completely understand,” she says. “It would be just too harrowing for people to watch. What actually happened was so much worse. I mean the stories I could tell you from the first person who encountered these young women. That was the ‘light’ version if you can believe that. But it isn’t a documentary, you don’t want to destroy people. You just want to illuminate something that actually happened that was a hundred times worse.”
Samuel Goldwyn Films has released a trailer for the Larysa Kondracki-directed The Whistleblower, with Rachel Weisz starring as an American police officer who becomes a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia. Her hopes of helping rebuild the country are dashed when she sees rampant sex-trafficking activity, and apathy or worse among government officials who turn a blind eye to what is going on. Script was written by Ellis Kirwan & Kondracki, and it’s inspired by a true story. Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn also star. The film begins rolling out Aug. 5.
Samuel Goldwyn Films closed U.S. rights to The Whistleblower, the Rachel Weisz-starrer that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Larysa Kondracki directed the drama, which also stars Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and David Strathairn. Weisz plays a cop who takes a peacekeeper job in post-war Bosnia and uncovers a sex trafficking scandal. Pic will be released in August. UTA Independent Film Group’s Rena Ronson brokered the deal. Here is a scene from the film that Deadline previewed at Toronto:
EXCLUSIVE FROM TORONTO: The Whistleblower makes its Toronto premiere tomorrow. Deadline is providing a sneak peek at some of the footage. The film stars Rachel Weisz as Nebraska police officer who takes a job as a United Nations peackeeper assigned to post-war Bosnia. She uncovers a massive scandal and cover-up. Larysa Kondracki directs and Vanessa Redgrave, Monica Bellucci and David Straitharn co-star. UTA is selling domestic and Nicolas Chartier is handling foreign.
More than Sundance, Cannes, or even Telluride, the Toronto International Film Festival is where quality films come to strut, and where the groundswell of Oscar buzz really starts. For film purists, it is also the official end of summer and, hopefully, a parade of original films largely missing among this summer’s Hollywood films. While 75% of major studio releases this summer were remakes, sequels, or adaptations generated by arm-long lists of writers, Toronto will inject some excitement with a slate heavy on inventiveness. That’s why it likely will announce both Best Picture candidates and a slew of Best Actor and Best Actress contenders.
The films with the most heat are divided between those that are original and those based on existing material. They include Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours with James Franco, Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech with Colin Firth, Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan with Natalie Portman, Larysa Kondrack’s sex trafficking drama The Whistleblower with Rachel Weisz, John Cameron Mitchell’s The Rabbit Hole with Nicole Kidman, and Robert Redford’s Lincoln assassination tale The Conspirator, starring James McAvoy and Robin Wright and which has arguably the highest wanna-see of the films available for acquisition. There is also Ben Affleck’s much talked-about The Town, and the Clint Eastwood-directed Hereafter, which will be seen for the first time by most pundits. Also at Toronto are Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s Biutiful, which won a Best Actor prize for Javier Bardem at Cannes, and Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, whose top-notch performances by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling unveiled at Sundance and then Cannes.
Done well, originality in festival films pays off. Whereas the branded films that Hollywood generated this summer were for the most part underperforming. Revenues were up slightly only because of higher 3D ticket prices, and attendance was down to the lowest level since 2007. But there was a 3-week period in July that saw Universal and Illumination release Despicable Me, Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures follow with Inception, and then Sony Pictures release Salt. It felt like somebody opened a window and let in fresh air. Audiences responded, and box office soared. It wasn’t a coincidence that all three movies saw the same writer who started the pic survive until the end. (Though I’ve heard that Salt scribe Kurt Wimmer had some uncredited help from Brian Helgeland).
I asked a group of well-established writers, executives and dealmakers to list the factors preventing originality in Hollywood films:
A) An aversion to risk-taking which is a lingering byproduct of the recession and credit crunch. “Studio executives are always afraid of taking risks unless they can point to a big success,” said one writer’s agent. “If a Western did well, they’d want another Western, and they’d get a lot of bad Westerns.”
B) An over-reliance on “branded” properties that became prevalent over the last several years. Rights holders got first dollar gross deals and say over creative issues and release deadlines, even though they don’t know the first thing about making a good movie.
C) The rise of one-step screenwriter deals and sweepstakes pitching (where multiple writers compete for a job by pitching ideas for the same assignment). Several writers admitted to me that when their priority is advancing to the next draft, originality goes out the window. They try to please studio executives and producers who thrive in a comfort zone of sameness.
D) The growing influence of marketing executives in the selection of films that get made. Those executives favor films they know how to sell, which means films they’ve sold before.
“I hope this summer’s movies like Despicable Me and Inception reinvigorate the industry’s belief in original ideas,” said Illumination founder Chris Meledandri, whose Despicable Me has surpassed Shrek Forever After, Kung-Fu Panda, Happy Feet, Ratatouille, Madagascar, and two Ice Age films on the domestic gross chart. “The whole industry needs to swing back from the reliance on pre-awareness. Audiences also thrive on the discovery of new characters, stories and worlds. From a business perspective, today’s fresh ideas have the potential to become tomorrow’s franchises.”
Skeptics argue that both Despicable Me and Inception were anomalies. The former got its $69 million budget because Meledandri wanted it to be Illumination’s first film, after Universal hired him away from a successful run at Fox Animation. Inception was more unlikely. Warner Bros execs, waiting for director Chris Nolan to do another Batman, were surprised when he instead dropped the Inception spec script in their laps. The studio let Nolan loose on an idea that rattled around his head for a decade before he put it on paper. Would anyone have approved $160 million for such an impossible-to-explain-in-a-sentence film if the director hadn’t been Nolan?
Still, motion picture lit agents are encouraged. They tell me the word “originality” is coming up often in meetings with studio execs. “Now, we’re on the originality train. It is at least encouraging to have conversations where they aren’t closing doors on anything but branded projects. They’re saying we need new IP.” So agents are pushing their clients to write — gasp! — spec scripts, rather than strictly compete for assignments. “The best thing about Inception was that Nolan didn’t follow The Dark Knight by taking a fat payday, he wrote a spec,” said one writer’s rep. “Writers haven’t been doing specs because there was no room in the marketplace for them. Our clients would say, ‘how are you going to sell my script if you tell me all they want to make is something with a Hasbro tie-in?’”