There I was catching up on several news items I tagged earlier today, so I would remember to return to them, when I read that Nigerian director Jeta Amata, is currently in Haiti, where he has been named a Goodwill Ambassador, by Haiti President Michel Martelly (photo above).
The ceremony took place yesterday, Monday, February 4, in Port-au-Prince, in the presence of, among others, Haiti Tourism Minister Stephanie Villedrouin, Foreign Minister Pierre Richard Casimir and Culture Minister Josette Darguste.
The question that came to me immediately, was, why Nollywood director Amata was being honored with this specific position…
Further digging and reading revealed that Amata was named a Goodwill Ambassador because he's currently shooting a feature film on the life of Toussaint Louverture!
That's right! I don't know how we missed this. We're usually on-top of this kind of major news, but it just slipped by us. However, now you know.
Here's what I can add, based on the research I did:
– The film is titled Emperor: The Story of Toussaint l'Ouverture.
– Its listed budget is $15 million, which is being financed by mostly private equity.
– It's based on an original screenplay by Kyra Pahlen. I looked up Kyra's credits to find that this will be her first job. But I also learned that she's the daughter of the late producer Victor Pahlen, who, along with Errol Flynn, was co-owner of a movie theatre in Havana (Cuba) during Fidel Castro's revolution – this was in 1959. So both Pahlen and Flynn took to the streets with cameras to document history as it happened, at ground zero. And what resulted was a feature documentary of Castro's uprising, hosted by Flynn, featuring footage of the conflict and Castro himself. That documentary would eventually be titled Cuban Story. It's listed on IMDB as The Truth About Fidel Castro's Revolution. The film premiered at the Moscow Film Festival in 1960, and then disappeared until it was resurrected this century by (bringing it all back around), Victor Pahlen's daughter, Kyra Pahlen – who's now the writer of Emperor: The Story of Toussaint l'Ouverture.
– The only synopsis I could find reads: The film chronicles the life, loves and battles of Toussaint l’Ouverture, who founded the world’s first independent black republic in Haiti by ousting both the Spaniards and Napoleon’s French army. In an unprecedented war of wills, the film follows the clash between Catholicism and Voodoo, inspired warfare, international politics, the eternal love triangle and the conflict between every shade of color in the small Caribbean nation.
– I couldn't find anything on who's been cast in the film, which is strange; unless it's all being kept under-wraps. But I did learn that an unknown is playing the lead role, selected after what the filmmakers call an international search for new talent, last year. They also said that this new face playing Toussaint, will be surrounded by familiar talent.
– The film is being shot mostly in Haiti, with other locations in Mauritius, Brazil and France.
– In the press statement Haiti President Michel Martelly released, it is mentioned that some proceeds from the film's profits will be used to fund restoration of historic sites in Haiti that were destroyed by the 2010 earthquake.
– At the event, Amata, one of Nollywood's most famous directors today, told the President and other dignitaries in attendance, "I will not disappoint you."
– The film will be scored by George Acogny (who also worked on Blood Diamond, and Rabbit Foot Fence).
– The film is currently scheduled for an August release.
So, by all accounts, given all available data, this is a project to definitely pay attention to from here-on, and we'll be doing just that.
Jeta Amata belongs to a group/movement of Nigerian filmmakers (Kunle Afolayan, Tony Abulu and others) who want to seemingly break free of Nollywood-style filmmaking, and create work that's able to compete on the international cinema stage, and give a new face to Nigerian filmmaking.
His last feature, the political corruption drama about the volatile oil-rich Niger Delta region of Nigeria, titled Black Gold, was a Hollywood/Nollywood collaboration, and starred Mickey Rourke, Kim Bassinger, Anne Heche, Billy Zane, Tom Sizemore, Vivica Fox, Sarah Wayne Callies, Mbong Amata, Hakeem Kae Kazim and several others. It was re-released in Nigeria in December, after Amata re-thought and reshot parts of the film, to make it more current.
I saw the first version of Black Gold, later titled Black November, and, let's just say that I wasn't at all impressed.
But we'll see what Amata does with Toussaint l'Ouverture.
Recall last year's Toussaint l'Ouverture film, directed by Philippe Niang, which traveled the international film festival circuit (and continues to travel). It stars Jimmy Jean-Louis as the title character in what really was a 2-part TV-movie, made for French television. It still hasn't received a proper release here in the USA (or really, anywhere outside of France).
There's also Danny Glover's project which, as of today, is still in Limbo, with no indication that it'll ever become a reality.
So… now we wait for Jeta Amata's $15 million Toussaint film. Until then, I hope that we're able to get more information on the project.