sarooUPDATE: TWC has confirmed this deal, and I had it right except that Australian rights are excluded. Release is below original scoop.

PREVIOUS EXCLUSIVE: In a whopping deal that was done in stealth mode, The Weinstein Company is nearing a $12 million deal for Lion, a Luke Davies-scripted adaptation of the Saroo Bierley book A Long Way Home. The film will be directed by Garth Davis, who helmed Top Of The Lake, and the deal is for world rights, I’ve heard. There have been almost no rumblings about the project at the fest, but the two studios who were battling ferociously for this were TWC and Fox Searchlight. No comment yet from the principals but I expect this one to be done before day’s end.

the-weinstein-company-logo-1__140502172505-275x153It’s easy to see why each party was eager. The project has undeniable sweep and Oscar potential. It is most easily compared to Slumdog Millionaire and Life Of Pi, and it reunites TWC with the Oscar-winning The King’s Speech producers Iain Canning and Emile Sherman. The producers and attorney Craig Emanuel have been guiding this deal. It is a truly fascinating true story, spanning India and Australia. The protagonist is Saroo Brierly, who was separated from his family in India at age 5. The family lived in desperate poverty after the father deserted them, and Brierly and his older brother one day went to a railway station to scavenge for food and spare change. Saroo wound up separated from his brother, and having no idea where it was going, boarded a train that took him far from his home. Hopelessly lost, he wound up on the streets of Calcutta. After a harrowing survival ordeal, he eventually was rescued, and was adopted and grew up with an affluent family in Australia. He never forgot his origins, though. As an adult, he decided to reunite with his mother. Using scraps of memory and Google Maps, he was able to figure out where home was, and 26 years later was finally reunited with a birth mother who never stopped hoping.

iaianLion looks to become the second-biggest money deal of the Cannes market so far, behind the $20 million that Paramount paid for North American and China rights to the Denis Villenueve-directed Story Of Your Life. TWC notched what was briefly the next-biggest deal yesterday when it paid $5 million for the Owen Wilson-Pierce Brosnan action thriller The Coup. That number was supplanted by this, but in Lion, the high price was for almost all of world rights, and basically covers almost all of the budget for the film, so it is more like a commitment to make the film. Davis and Davies are repped by UTA.

Here is a 60 Minutes segment on Brierly’s unbelievable story:

Cannes2014_badge__140417160328-150x150 (1)May 19, 2014 (CANNES, FRANCE) – The Weinstein Company (TWC) announced today they have finalized their deal for LION where they have worldwide distribution excluding Australia and New Zealand. This project reteams TWC and See-Saw Films where they had great success with THE KING’S SPEECH and are currently partnered on MACBETH and TRACKS. LION is produced by See-Saw Films in association with Sunstar Entertainment and Aquarius Films . Producers are Emile Sherman, Iain Canning and Angie Fielder with Executive Producers Andrew Fraser and Shahen Mekertichian.

Adapted from the novel A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley, LION is about a five-year-old Indian boy who after a wrong train takes him thousands of miles away from home and family, he survives many challenges before being adopted by an Australian couple. Twenty-five years later, armed with only the scantest of clues, he learns of a new technology called Google Earth, and sets out to find his lost family.

Harvey Weinstein said, “When we read the script we were simply blown away by this emotional story. Coupled with the fact this project gave us the opportunity to continue our relationship with See- Saw we jumped at the chance to join the LION team. Iain and Emile have this innate ability to make films that inspire and resonate with people. I look forward to sharing this fascinating and life affirming story with audiences all over the world.”

Commented Emile Sherman and Iain Canning: “This is one of the very rare truly unique and totally compelling stories that you dream of coming across as producers. We have been stunned by the response to the story, the script and our creative team, led by director Garth Davis. Having had such a extraordinary journey with TWC on THE KING’S SPEECH we know we are with a team that is passionate and adept at championing a film with the potential to captivate audiences across the world.”

LION screenplay is by Luke Davies and will be directed by Garth Davis. David Glasser, Robert Walak, Dan Guando, Nageen Yazdi and Michal Steinberg negotiated on behalf of TWC and Craig Emanuel of Loeb and Loeb represented the deal on behalf of Cross City Sales and the producers. The film is co-financed by Screen Australia and production will begin August 2014.