It was in October 2013 when Focus Features founder and CEO James Schamus left the company – news that was announced by parent Universal. Schamus has been replaced by FilmDistrict founder and CEO Peter Schlessel in a move that will see Focus Features broaden its portfolio beyond the production and distribution of so-called “specialty product,” as well as increase the number of films the division releases.
Interpret Universal’s written motivations however you wish, but it read to me like the studio is no longer interested in its subsidiary being a strictly art house/foreign films label, with at least one goal being to produce and distribute more commercial, mainstream fare.
One of the questions that remains unanswered is what happens to Focus Features’ long-in-development Fela Kuti biopic that Steve McQueen was once attached to direct, with Chiwetel Ejiofor starring, and which Andrew Dosunmu is now attached to direct.
A new report by The Hollywood Reporter today says that the project is no longer set up at Focus Features (which I suppose shouldn’t be a surprise, given the recent changes), and, according to McQueen, who was previously attached to direct it, “The movie is dead,” he told THR, adding that “They didn’t have the money. It’s just one of those things that happens in this business.”
Of course, since McQueen is no longer directing the film, and Dosunmu is now attached, would he know exactly what the status of the project is currently? I did ask Andrew a couple of months ago, some time after the changes at Focus Features, whether the project was still alive, and he said, as far as he knew, it was still in motion.
And the THR piece does add, at the end of the report, that a source tells them that James Schamus is working on a script revision, and the project is not dead.
One thing that’s for sure is that the film is no longer set up at Focus Features, and we can speculate that Schamus will likely independently work to get the project financed and off the ground finally, which could be a lengthy process, especially for a project of this nature, which, as we previously reported, is not a biopic, and will be more experimental in form, with long movements based on Fela’s lengthy songs. Schamus called it something of a “passion project” for him.
And finally, based on the THR report, it appears that Chiwetel Ejiofor is no longer attached to star, which opens the door for other actors to potentially step into the role – if it ever gets the backing it needs.
By the way, screening in the out-of-competition Documentary Premieres section of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, is Finding Fela from director Alex Gibney, which tells the story of Fela’s life, music, and political relevance.