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Focus Features is 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, and world-renowned theme parks. Comcast Corporation owns a controlling 51% interest in NBCUniversal, with GE holding a 49% stake.

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The Eagle of the Ninth: Filming Moves to Scotland

Posted October 19, 2009

Tahar Rahim (Star of A Prophet) Joins Kevin MacDonald’s Roman Epic Adventure The Eagle of the Ninth for Focus Features and Film4; Filming Moves to Scotland

LONDON, October 19, 2009 – Tahar Rahim, the star of one of this year’s most acclaimed films, Un Prophète (A Prophet), has joined the cast of the Roman epic adventure The Eagle of the Ninth, currently being directed by Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald and produced by Duncan Kenworthy. The film is co-financed by Film4 with Focus Features, which holds worldwide rights excluding U.K. free-TV.

Heading the cast are Channing Tatum (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, the upcoming Dear John), Jamie Bell (Defiance, Jumper), two-time Golden Globe Award winner Donald Sutherland, and Mark Strong (the upcoming Sherlock Holmes and Robin Hood). Mr. Macdonald is reunited on the new film with Jeremy Brock, BAFTA Award-winning screenwriter of his 2006 film The Last King of Scotland, who has adapted the screenplay of The Eagle of the Ninth from Rosemary Sutcliff’s classic novel of the same name.

The Eagle of the Ninth is set in the dangerous world of second-century Britain. In 140 AD, twenty years after the unexplained disappearance of the entire Ninth Legion in the mountains of Scotland, young centurion Marcus Aquila (played by Mr. Tatum) arrives from Rome to solve the mystery and restore the reputation of his father, the commander of the Ninth. Accompanied only by his British slave Esca (Mr. Bell), Marcus sets out across Hadrian’s Wall into the uncharted highlands of Caledonia – to confront its savage tribes, make peace with his father’s memory, and retrieve the lost legion’s golden emblem, the Eagle of the Ninth. Mr. Sutherland portrays Marcus’ uncle Aquila, who has retired in Britain; Mr. Strong is cast as Guern, an ex-soldier who holds crucial information about the Ninth.

Mr. Rahim will portray the Gaelic-speaking Seal Prince, the fearsome leader of a band of warriors who pursue Marcus and Esca through the highlands. The actor recently came to international prominence with his lead role in Jacques Audiard’s Un Prophète, which world-premiered at last spring’s Cannes International Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prix. The film has since been selected as France’s official submission for the Academy Awards.

The Eagle of the Ninth is shooting entirely on location. Following six weeks in Hungary, where filming began in August, the unit has now moved to Scotland and will remain there until production wraps next month.

Duncan Kenworthy, an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award nominee for Four Weddings and a Funeral, developed and is producing The Eagle of the Ninth through his Toledo Productions. Caroline Hewitt is co-producer. Focus senior vice president, European production Teresa Moneo – who with Focus Features International president of sales and distribution Alison Thompson brought the project into the company – is supervising the film’s production with Film4 head Tessa Ross.

Anthony Dod Mantle, who won the Academy Award earlier this year for his cinematography of Slumdog Millionaire, is director of photography on The Eagle of the Ninth. 2009 Academy Award winner Michael O’Connor and Academy Award nominee Michael Carlin (both of The Duchess) are the film’s costume and production designers, respectively. Justine Wright will edit The Eagle of the Ninth, marking her fifth consecutive feature collaboration with Mr. Macdonald.

In addition to The Last King of Scotland, for which Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor Academy Award, Mr. Macdonald’s films as director include One Day in September, which won him the Best Documentary Feature Oscar; the mountain-climbing thriller Touching the Void; and, most recently, State of Play, starring Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck.

Duncan Kenworthy has produced three of the most successful British films of all time: Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love Actually. Together, they have grossed nearly $900 million at the worldwide boxoffice. He has been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award and three Golden Globe Awards, and has won five BAFTA Awards and three Emmy Awards. He was made an O.B.E. in 1999 for services to film, and is vice president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). In 2004, he created the Toledo Scholarships at the National Film and Television School for British ethnic minority students; there have been eight Toledo Scholars so far.

Film4, headed by Tessa Ross, is Channel 4 Television’s feature film division. The Company develops and co-finances film productions and is known for working with the most innovative talent in the U.K., whether new or established. Film4 was a financier of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire, which won 8 Academy Awards earlier this year. Film4 partnered with Focus on Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, for which star Colin Farrell won a Golden Globe Award. It also backed Steve McQueen’s Hunger, winner of, amongst other awards, the 2008 Cannes International Film Festival’s Camera d’Or; and Mike Leigh’s Oscar-nominated Happy-Go-Lucky, for which star Sally Hawkins won a Golden Globe Award.

Film4’s most recent releases include Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric and Michael Winterbottom’s Genova. Upcoming Film4 projects include Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones;Paul King’s Bunny and the Bull;Sam Taylor Wood’s Nowhere Boy;Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go;Xiaolu Guo’s She, A Chinese, which won the Golden Leopard at the 2009 Locarno Film Festival; and, with Focus Features International, and the UK Film Council’s Premiere Fund, Mike Leigh’s new film.

Focus Features and Focus Features International (FFI) (www.filminfocus.com) together comprise a singular global company, dedicated to producing, acquiring, financing, selling, and distributing original and daring films from emerging and established filmmakers – films that challenge mainstream moviegoers to embrace and enjoy voices and visions from around the world. The company’s flexible and nuanced approach to distribution allows it to support a wide range of films, from those geared to a single local market to worldwide hits. The company operates as Focus Features domestically, and as Focus Features International overseas.

Domestically, current and upcoming Focus Features releases include Shane Acker’s animated fantasy epic 9, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov; writer/director Richard Curtis’ rock and roll comedy Pirate Radio; the unique nonfiction feature Babies, directed by Thomas Balmès; Greenberg, the new film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, starring Ben Stiller; Anton Corbijn’s suspense thriller The American, starring George Clooney; Academy Award-winning writer/director Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere; and Academy Award-winning writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man, which world-premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

In addition to the Focus slate, the FFI slate includes Robert Redford’s The Conspirator, starring James McAvoy, Robin Wright Penn, and Evan Rachel Wood; AGORA, an historical epic from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar, starring Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz; Alexander Voitinskiy’s Black Lightning, produced by Timur Bekmambetov; Derek Yee’s Shinjuku Incident, starring Jackie Chan; Academy Award-winning filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar’s Broken Embraces, starring Academy Award winner Penélope Cruz; and the untitled new film from writer/director Mike Leigh starring Jim Broadbent, Phil Davis, and Imelda Staunton.

Focus Features and Focus Features International are part of NBC Universal, 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. Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC Universal owns and operates a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, and world-renowned theme parks. NBC Universal is 80% owned by General Electric and 20% owned by Vivendi.

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For a Second Year, Focus Features Announces Winners of Africa First Program

Posted October 12, 2009

Stephen Abbott, Matt Bishanga, Daouda Coulibaly, Matthew Jankes, Rungano Nyoni Awarded $10,000 for Shorts

NEW YORK, October 12th, 2009 – For the second consecutive year, five filmmakers have been awarded $10,000 apiece in Focus Features’ Africa First Program for short films, an initiative earmarked exclusively for emerging filmmakers of African nationality and residence. The five selected were named today by Focus Features CEO James Schamus.

The uniquely conceived initiative offers eligible and participating filmmakers the chance to be awarded $10,000 in financing for pre-production, production, and/or post-production on their narrative short film made in continental Africa and tapping into the resources of the film industry there. Just as important, the program brings the filmmakers together with each other and with a renowned group of advisors, major figures in the African film world, for support and mentorship. Complete details on Africa First can be accessed through www.filminfocus.com/africafirst.

The winning filmmakers for 2009 are Mr. Stephen Abbott (from South Africa), Mr. Matt Bishanga (from Uganda), Mr. Daouda Coulibaly (from Mali), Mr. Matthew Jankes (also from South Africa), and Ms. Rungano Nyoni (from Zambia).

The short films that they will be directing are, respectively, Dirty Laundry, a black comedy unfolding during one very long night in a laundromat; A Good Catholic Girl, a drama addressing questions of religion and marriage in Christian and Arab communities; As Long As Bozos Sing, a drama about a plague causing deafness in a West African community; Umkhungo, a science-fiction tale about a young boy from the slums of Hillbrow grappling with paranormal abilities; and The Adventures of Mwansa the Great, a fantasy in which a young Zambian boy’s imagination transforms everyday activities into an exciting quest.

Africa First is supervised by producer Kisha Imani Cameron (…Sometimes in April), whose Completion Films company has a first-look and consulting deal with Focus, and who coordinates the Program’s submissions and evaluations with Focus director of production Matthew Plouffe. In addition to on-site work in Africa, the winning filmmakers of Africa First will visit New York City later this fall for a weekend of one-on-one workshop discussions with members of the program’s international advisory board of experts in African cinema and such Focus executives as Mr. Schamus and president of production John Lyons, covering such topics as international distribution and the economics of studio financing; and with Ms. Cameron and Mr. Plouffe.

Mr. Schamus said, “I am looking forward to meeting all five filmmakers in a few weeks’ time. Last year’s Africa First team had incredibly talented and original filmmakers, and this year’s group of filmmakers looks to be just as exciting.”

Ms. Cameron added, “The response to Africa First has been truly overwhelming. I’m proud to work with these moviemakers of tomorrow, who represent such a diverse cross-section of talent, education, vision, and experience.”

The submission period began on June 1st, 2009 and ran through August 17th, 2009. The five filmmakers retain the copyrights and the distribution rights to their completed shorts, with the exception of North American rights; Focus retains those, as well as the right of first negotiation to productions derived from the shorts, such as a feature-length expansion.

Completion is developing feature, documentary, and television projects. Its president, Ms. Cameron, previously worked as director of development at Walden Media, and as an executive at New Line Cinema, where she oversaw the development and production of Spike Lee’s Bamboozled.

The Africa First advisory board members are Ms. Mahen Bonetti, founder and executive director of the African Film Festival; journalist and documentary filmmaker Ms. Jihan El-Tahiri; Ms. June Givanni, who for four years programmed the Toronto International Film Festival’s Planet Africa series; Mr. Clarence Hamilton, script editor and Head of Production at NFVF; Mr. Pedro Pimenta, producer and manager of training programs throughout South Africa; and Mr. Keith Shiri, founder/director of the Africa at the Pictures film festival in the U.K.

Launched in 2008, Africa First last fall awarded $10,000 apiece to five winning filmmakers; Mr. Edouard Bamporiki (from Rwanda), Ms. Jenna Bass (from South Africa), Mr. Jan-Hendrik Beetge (also from South Africa), Ms. Dyana Gaye (from Senegal), and Ms. Wanuri Kahiu (from Kenya). Their short films are, respectively, Long Coat, a drama about a young Hutu coming to terms with Rwanda’s and his own family’s past; The Tunnel, a 1980s-set story centering around a 10-year-old girl’s quest; The Abyss Boys, a thriller about an illegal trade in a small fishing town; the public transportation musical N’Dar [Saint Louis Blues]; and Pumzi [Breath], a futuristic sci-fi tale.

Current and upcoming Focus Features movies include Shane Acker’s animated fantasy epic 9, starring Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov; writer/director Richard Curtis’ rock and roll comedy Pirate Radio; the unique nonfiction feature Babies, directed by Thomas Balmès; Greenberg, the new film from writer/director Noah Baumbach, starring Ben Stiller; Academy Award winner Kevin Macdonald’s Roman epic adventure The Eagle of the Ninth, starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell, Donald Sutherland, and Mark Strong; Anton Corbijn’s suspense thriller The American, starring George Clooney; Academy Award-winning writer/director Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere; and Academy Award-winning writer/directors Joel and Ethan Coen’s A Serious Man, which world-premiered last month at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Focus Features and Focus Features International are part of NBC Universal, 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. Formed in May 2004 through the combining of NBC and Vivendi Universal Entertainment, NBC Universal owns and operates a valuable portfolio of news and entertainment networks, a premier motion picture company, significant television production operations, a leading television stations group, and world-renowned theme parks. NBC Universal is 80% owned by General Electric and 20% owned by Vivendi.

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