Postpandemic Plans

John David Washington and Zendaya in Sam Levinson’s Malcolm & Marie (2020)

A couple of weeks ago, the staff at Little White Lies drew up an annotated list of a hundred movies they’re looking forward to seeing once movie theaters open back up again. Some of these films are still in production, others have premiered this year at Sundance or Berlin, and still others will soon be heading to Venice, Toronto, or New York. And then there’s a batch of highly anticipated films such as Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks with Bill Murray, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria with Tilda Swinton, or Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch with Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton that by all accounts are ready to roll but whose future remains uncertain as long as there are no audiences to roll them out to.

With distribution indefinitely suspended, it’s both remarkable and encouraging that filmmakers are still lining up projects to take on once it’s safe to get to work on them. Last month, Deadline’s Anthony D’Alessandro took the industry by surprise when he broke the news that Sam Levinson, creator of the HBO series Euphoria, had managed to quietly write, direct, and coproduce a movie while most of the world was still locked down. Malcolm & Marie features John David Washington, the star of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet—which, by the way, will finally hit theaters in Europe at the end of the month before seeing a limited release in the States a week later—and Euphoria’s Zendaya. Little is known about the story, but D’Alessandro hears that the two-hander will address “a number of social themes” on all of our minds at the moment.

D’Alessandro also details the extensive precautions taken by the cast and crew during a shoot that took place over two weeks at the end of June at the Caterpillar House, an isolated and well-ventilated private home in Monterey County. Most productions won’t be geared to such an exceptional set of conditions and will have to wait until the pandemic is under control. But here’s an overview of some of the most promising projects that have been announced so far this summer.

  • Gina Prince-Bythewood, whose The Old Guard has become one of the most popular Netflix original movies ever, is setting up The Woman King, a feature loosely based on actual events that took place in the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the eighteenth century. Viola Davis will play the leader of an all-female military unit battling French colonialists and other enemies of the Dahomey Ahosi tribe.

  • Pedro Almodóvar plans to begin shooting Madres paralelas, the story of two mothers in Madrid who give birth on the same day, in February. Penélope Cruz isn’t a lock yet, but Almodóvar says she likes the screenplay. Madres paralelas will knock Almodóvar’s previously planned first feature in English, A Manual for Cleaning Women, based on a collection of short stories by Lucia Berlin, a little further down the calendar.

  • Bradley Cooper, who has been preparing to direct a film for Netflix about the marriage of Leonard Bernstein and Felicia Montealegre, may be joining the cast of Paul Thomas Anderson’s as-yet-untitled story centered on a child actor attending high school in the San Fernando Valley.

  • Cinematographer-turned-director Ellen Kuras will direct Kate Winslet in Lee, an adaptation of Antony Penrose’s 1988 book about his mother, The Lives of Lee Miller. A former model, Miller took up photojournalism and covered the Second World War for Vogue.

  • Little is known about the story told in The Hand of God, the Netflix feature that Paolo Sorrentino will shoot in Naples, but he says that it “represents for the first time in my career an intimate and personal film, a novel of formation at once light-hearted and painful.”

  • Netflix has won a bidding war for Leave the World Behind, an adaptation of the forthcoming novel by Rumaan Alam about a white family and a Black couple sharing a house in the wake of a global cataclysmic event. Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) will direct Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington.

  • Niki Caro, who directed Mulan, the live-action adaptation of Disney’s 1998 animated feature, two years ago only to see it skip a theatrical release in the States this year—it will premiere on Disney+ on September 4—has lined up Beautiful Ruins, an adaptation of Jess Walter’s 2012 best-selling novel set in Italy in the 1960s and Hollywood in the 2010s.

  • Luca Guadagnino will direct Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s adaptation of Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017), which in turn was based on Scotty Bowers’s 2012 memoir, Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars.

  • Absolute confirmation isn’t in yet, but it looks like Ben Affleck will write and direct a feature based on The Big Goodbye, Sam Wasson’s book on the making of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown (1974).

  • One more Hollywood tale. Edgar Wright is developing Stage 13, based on the short story by Simon Rich about a struggling director who befriends the ghost of a silent-era actress.

Whether TV is still peaking is a matter open to debate, but the serial narrative does carry on attracting top talent. Wong Kar-wai recently confirmed once and for all that Blossoms will be his first series. It’s an adaptation of Jin Yucheng’s novel starring Hu Ge (The Wild Goose Lake) and set against the backdrop of Shanghai’s economic boom in the early 1990s.

Ava DuVernay is at work on two series. She’s teaming up with Colin Kaepernick on Colin in Black & White, a six-episode story rooted in the future quarterback’s high school years. That one’s going to Netflix, while One Perfect Shot, inspired by the popular Twitter account, is being developed for HBO Max. The idea is to have a director “walk into” a scene featuring the selected landmark shot and explain how it was pulled off—perhaps somewhat like the tour guide in Zbigniew Rybczyński’s 1987 short Steps who leads a group of Americans through the “Odessa Steps” sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (1926).

And finally for now, the 1619 Project just keeps expanding. What began a year ago as a special issue of the New York Times Magazine marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in Virginia has since spawned podcasts, live events, and a series of books. Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer, and now she and the NYT are teaming up with Lionsgate and Oprah Winfrey to create “an expansive portfolio of feature films, television series, and other content for a global audience.”

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