EXCLUSIVE: Michael Bronner, who co-produced Paul Greengrass’ United 93, Green Zone and Captain Phillips, has come on-board to adapt The Marriott Cell, a powerful account of the three innocent Al Jazeera journalists who were imprisoned for 400 days in Egypt’s Scorpion prison. The memoir was written by Mohamed Fahmy, one of the journos held for over a year. UK-based The Development Partnership has optioned the book, which will be published by Penguin Random House Canada in October, to develop as a feature film along with well-respected Egyptian actor and producer Amr Waked. Penguin Random House Canada has also acquired world rights to the book.
Weaving together the true-life story of the three journos — Fahmy, award-winning Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed — the book will detail the complex geopolitical web of score-settling that leaves them caught in an extraordinary struggle toward their path for freedom. The political thriller encompasses the dramatic televised arrest, trial and incarceration of bureau chief Fahmy and his two colleagues in 2013.
“This feature is going to allow us to relive and dramatically portray what no newsreel grasped: one’s inner voice caught in an emotional struggle between lawlessness, failed corporate decisions and bureaucratic red tape that left us in a vicious Kafkaesqe black hole fighting for our lives and for the bigger cause of press freedom,” said Fahmy, who was finally pardoned by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in September last year.
Greste, a former BBC reporter and Peabody Award winner, along with fellow Al-Jazeera journalists Fahmy and Mohamed, spent more than a year in jail following their arrest in December 2013 on what many believe were politically motivated, trumped-up charges of aiding terrorist actions and being associates of the Muslim Brotherhood. Greste had been in Egypt only a fortnight when he was arrested along with his two Al-Jazeera English colleagues, as well as several students. The plight of the journalists became something of a cause celebre — Amal Clooney defended Fahmy and will provide a foreword to his book — and a bellwether for the curtailing of press freedoms in Egypt following the consolidation of power by El-Sisi. The trio found themselves caught in the middle of a geo-political struggle that pitted the President and his allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against the state of Qatar, which owns and bankrolls Al-Jazeera and had been staunch of supporters of El-Sisi’s predecessors in power, the Muslim Brotherhood.
In July 2013, then-Army general El-Sisi led the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood, including President Mohammed Morsi, after huge anti-Brotherhood protests gripped Egypt for days culminating in the Brotherhood declared an illegal organisation and its leadership jailed, killed or sent into exile. Qatar, which had maintained its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, with Al-Jazeera, particularly its Arabic language news service, declared persona non grata by the El-Sisi administration.
Bronner has specialized in this smart political fare before with his work as a producer with Paul Greengrass. He is a former journalist for 60 Minutes and also wrote, directed and production Chasing Planes: Witnesses to 9/11.
“What attracts me to The Marriott Cell – aside from its setting in the wrenching tumult of Egypt’s revolution and the sheer outrage at the imprisonment of journalists on trumped up terrorism charges – is the intimate journey of these three wrongfully accused men who realize, in the confines of their squalid, shoebox cell, that there is no credible system by which they can prove their innocence in court,” said Bronner. “Incredibly, Fahmy, while literally still shackled in prison, makes a gut call to go on the offensive.”
Amr Waked (Lucy) is developing the project with The Development Partnership. In addition to his acting career in both Egypt and internationally, Waked has also developed a relationship as one of Egypt’s more daring indie producers with the likes of Ibrahim El-Batout’s Winter of Discontent. He crossed paths with Fahmy prior to his incarceration during the course of the 2011 revolution in Egypt that saw long-time Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the early, heady days of the Arab Spring.
The Development Partnership is the producing arm of UK talent agency, The Artists Partnership. The company is ambitiously building up its slate of projects. The Artists Partnership reps the likes of Waked, Idris Elba, Emily Blunt and Jack Huston.