By Ray Pride Pride@moviecitynews.com

ANDREW DOSUNMU TO DIRECT FELA KUTI, DRAMA WITH MUSIC ABOUT MUSICIAN AND ACTIVIST FELA KUTI, FOR FOCUS FEATURES

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NEW YORK, September 16, 2013 – Andrew Dosunmu will direct Focus Features’ drama with music Fela Kuti, which is currently in development. Focus CEO James Schamus and co-CEO Andrew Karpen made the announcement today.

A human rights activist, sexual revolutionary, and political maverick, Fela Kuti was one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. He was the king of Afrobeat, a fusion of jazz, funk, psychedelic rock, and Yoruba chants and rhythms. Taking on Nigeria’s rapidly changing and often corrupt government in the 1970s, Fela pushed boundaries in art and life. His legacy as a charismatic visionary continues to inspire the contemporary hip-hop world and generations of artists who believe in the power of music to transform people and cultures.

Focus executive vice president, international production Teresa Moneo is supervising Fela Kuti for president of production Jeb Brody. The Cine Mosaic production is produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher and Leigh Blake.

The production’s source material is Michael Veal’s 2000 book Fela: The Life and Times of An African Musical Icon, and is not an adaptation of, or affiliated with, the Broadway musical Fela! Fela Kuti will include original music from the performer himself. Nigerian poet Chris Abani and Mr. Schamus have written the most recent drafts of the movie’s screenplay.

Mr. Dosunmu’s latest feature as director is Mother of George, starring Isaach De Bankolé and Danai Gurira; the movie world-premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews and was released theatrically by Oscilloscope this month. A native of Nigeria, Mr. Dosunmu began his career as a design assistant with Yves St. Laurent. He became a well-known photographer, and his film work started through a music video he made with Isaac Hayes. He has since directed music videos for artists including Youssou N’Dour, Aaron Neville, and Common. Mr. Dosunmu has also directed episodes of the hit South African television show Yizo Yizo. His documentary Hot Irons (1999) won the Reel Award at the Toronto International Film Festival and Best Documentary at FESPACO, Africa’s largest film festival. His acclaimed debut fiction feature, Restless City, world-premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and was released theatrically by Screen Media Films in 2012. Mr. Schamus and Mr. Karpen commented, “Fela Kuti lived many lifetimes in just the one, so Fela Kuti will not be a standard biopic. The combination of Andrew Dosunmu’s insight into characters and relationships with Fela’s spectacular music will enthrall audiences around the globe.”

Focus Features and Focus Features International (www.focusfeatures.com) comprise a singular global company. This worldwide studio makes original and daring films that challenge the mainstream to embrace and enjoy voices and visions from around the world that deliver global commercial success. The company operates as Focus Features in North America, and as Focus Features International (FFI) in the rest of the world.

Current and upcoming Focus Features releases include The World’s End, the new comedy reuniting director Edgar Wright with actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost; Dallas Buyers Club, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and starring Matthew McConaughey, Jennifer Garner, and Jared Leto; the comedy Bad Words, directed by and starring Jason Bateman; the true-life dramatic thriller Kill the Messenger, directed by Michael Cuesta and starring Jeremy Renner; the comedic fable The Boxtrolls, the new animated feature from LAIKA, directed by Anthony Stacchi and Graham Annable with a voice cast that includes Ben Kingsley, Toni Collette, Elle Fanning, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, and Tracy Morgan; Black Sea, the suspenseful adventure thriller starring Jude Law for Academy Award-wining director Kevin Macdonald; and Fifty Shades of Grey, the highly anticipated film adaptation of E L James’ #1 bestselling book that is being directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and stars Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson.

Focus Features and Focus Features International are part of NBCUniversal, one of the world’s leading media and entertainment companies in the development, production, and marketing of entertainment, news, and information to a global audience. NBCUniversal owns and operates a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment television networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, world-renowned theme parks, and a suite of leading Internet-based businesses. NBCUniversal is a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.

 

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This is probably going to sound petty, but Martin Scorsese insisting that critics see his film in theaters even though it’s going straight to Netflix and then not screening it in most American cities was a watershed moment for me in this theatrical versus streaming debate.

I completely respect when a filmmaker insists that their movie is meant to be seen in the theater, but the thing is, you got to actually make it possible to see it in the theater. Some movies may be too small for that, and that’s totally OK.

When your movie is largely financed by a streaming service and is going to appear on that streaming service instantly, I don’t really see the point of pretending that it’s a theatrical film. It just seems like we are needlessly indulging some kind of personal fantasy.

I don’t think that making a feature film length production that is going to go straight to a video platform is some sort of “step down.“ I really don’t. Theatrical exhibition as we know it is dying off anyway, for a variety of reasons.

I should clarify myself because this thread is already being misconstrued — I’m talking about how the movie is screened in advance. If it’s going straight to Netflix, why the ritual of demanding people see it in the theater?

There used to be a category that everyone recognized called “TV movie” or “made for television movie” and even though a lot of filmmakers considered that déclassé, it seems to me that probably 90% of feature films fit that description now.

Atlantis has mostly sunk into the ocean, only a few tower spires remain above the waterline, and I’m increasingly at peace with that, because it seems to be what the industry and much of the audience wants. We live in an age of convenience and information control.

Only a very elite group of filmmakers is still allowed to make movies “for theaters“ and actually have them seen and judged that way on a wide scale. Even platform releasing seems to be somewhat endangered. It can’t be fought. It has to be accepted.

9. Addendum: I’ve been informed that it wasn’t Scorsese who requested that the Bob Dylan documentary only be screened for critics in theaters, but a Netflix representative indicated the opposite to me, so I just don’t know what to believe.

It’s actually OK if your film is not eligible for an Oscar — we have a thing called the Emmys. A lot of this anxiety is just a holdover from the days when television was considered culturally inferior to theatrical feature films. Everybody needs to just get over it.

In another 10 to 20 years they’re probably going to merge the Emmys in the Oscars into one program anyway, maybe they’ll call it the Contentys.

“One of the fun things about seeing the new Quentin Tarantino film three months early in Cannes (did I mention this?) is that I know exactly why it’s going to make some people furious, and thus I have time to steel myself for the takes.

Back in July 2017, when it was revealed that Tarantino’s next project was connected to the Manson Family murders, it was condemned in some quarters as an insulting and exploitative stunt. We usually require at least a fig-leaf of compassion for the victims in true-crime adaptations, and even Tarantino partisans like myself – I don’t think he’s made a bad film yet – found ourselves wondering how he might square his more outré stylistic impulses with the depiction of a real mass murder in which five people and one unborn child lost their lives.

After all, it’s one thing to slice off with gusto a fictional policeman’s ear; it’s quite another to linger over the gory details of a massacre that took place within living memory, and which still carries a dread historical significance.

In her essay The White Album, Joan Didion wrote: “Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true.”

Early in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters drive up the hill towards Leo’s bachelor pad, the camera cranes up gently to reveal a street sign: Cielo Drive. Tarantino understands how charged that name is; he can hear the Molotov cocktails clinking as he shoulders the crate.

As you may have read in the reviews from Cannes, much of the film is taken up with following DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters – a fading TV actor and his long-serving stunt double – as they amusingly go about their lives in Los Angeles, while Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a relatively minor presence. But the spectre of the murders is just over the horizon, and when the night of the 9th finally arrives, you feel the mood in the cinema shift.

No spoilers whatsoever about what transpires on screen. But in the audience, as it became clear how Tarantino was going to handle this extraordinarily loaded moment, the room soured and split, like a pan of cream left too long on the hob. I craned in, amazed, but felt the person beside me recoil in either dismay or disgust.

Two weeks on, I’m convinced that the scene is the boldest and most graphically violent of Tarantino’s career – I had to shield my eyes at one point, found myself involuntarily groaning “oh no” at another – and a dead cert for the most controversial. People will be outraged by it, and with good reason. But in a strange and brilliant way, it takes Didion’s death-of-the-Sixties observation and pushes it through a hellfire-hot catharsis.

Hollywood summoned up this horror, the film seems to be saying, and now it’s Hollywood’s turn to exorcise it. I can’t wait until the release in August, when we can finally talk about why.

~ Robbie Collin