This news comes a couple of weeks after Ridley Scott announced his plans to develop a TV series also inspired by recent global fear over ebola.
The CNN Films co-production will explore the risks and progress made in the “battle against ebola and other infectious diseases,” says the press release, with a theatrical release planned for 2015, followed by a CNN Films TV broadcast in 2016.
The deadliest event of the last century was not a major battle nor a terrorist attack – it was the 1918 to 1919 global influenza pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 675,000 Americans died, and around the world, between 30 and 50 million people died – perhaps as much as 5 percent of the world’s population at the time. Yet, this event preceded modern-era advances that could make a contemporary pandemic even more deadly – global air travel, urbanization, antibiotic resistant ‘superbugs’– and the intentional distribution of contagions via bioterrorism.
CNN Films and Sierra Tango Productions, Inc., announced today an agreement to collaborate on a documentary co-production that will explore the lurking pathogens that could generate the next pandemic. The as yet untitled feature film will be directed and produced by the Emmy Award-winning Janet Tobias. Michael Ehrenzweig, Emmy award-winning journalist Peter W. Klein, and Rogger Lopez will co-produce the documentary with Tobias. Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Cesar Charlone is a co-director for the production. Benjamin Berkowitz will lead partnerships and outreach around the film’s theatrical distribution, festival exhibition, and eventual telecast.
“In making this film, I wanted to collaborate with a film group that was part of a trusted news network. CNN Films was the obvious choice given CNN’s global perspective – and the superb work of chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta,” said director Tobias, who also directed the 2012 historical film, No Place on Earth.
Dr. Gupta, a multiple Emmy Award-winning journalist and neurosurgeon, is also an executive producer and advisor for the film.
The film, which is expected to be ready for theaters by the fall of 2015, will feature Peter Piot, MD, MPH, FRCP, microbiologist and director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Dr. Piot is credited with being the co-discoverer of the virus that causes Ebola infection in humans. He was an early researcher on HIV/AIDS, and the founding director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). For the film, Tobias traveled with Piot as he returned to the location of the first identified Ebola outbreak, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and will film him as he works on the current outbreak in West Africa.
Additionally, the film will explore the lessons that scientists are learning to help fight the unseen human enemies of virulent viruses and bacteria. The film will also follow virus hunter Larry Brilliant, MD, MPH, former president of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, and currently a senior advisor to Jeff Skoll on social and environmental issues.
Dr. Brilliant is a bio-surveillance expert who served as part of the team of WHO scientists that led the efforts that eventually eradicated smallpox. He won the Sapling Foundation’s TED Prize for his work in public health – and, is an innovator who has led teams in the development of mobile applications for disease warning systems. He continues to bring together sometimes hostile governments to share disease surveillance data.
“Recent experience has shown us that modern life has made nations very vulnerable to global pandemics. We commissioned this film as a way to present the risks, explore the challenges, and offer solutions to this threat,” said Amy Entelis, senior vice president for talent and content development for CNN Worldwide. “After Janet’s critically-acclaimed work on the superb film, No Place on Earth, we knew she was exactly the perfect filmmaker to create this complex story for theater-goers and CNN viewers,” Entelis said.
“If we eradicated smallpox, anything is possible. We are at a fork in the road; it is on us,” says Dr. Brilliant.
The co-production deal between CNN Films and Sierra Tango Productions, Inc. () was negotiated by Vinnie Malhotra and Stacey Wolf of CNN, and by Josh Braun of Submarine on behalf of the filmmakers.