EXCLUSIVE: Sidney Kimmel Entertainment will finance and produce Picking Cotton, and the company has set Jessica Sanders to direct a David Birke & Tony Mosher-scripted adaptation of the bestselling memoir by Ronald Cotton, Jennifer Thompson and Erin Torneo.

Sidney Kimmel, SKE president John Penotti and Sanders will produce and Dan Shotz and Brett Winton will be exec producers.

Sanders is the Oscar-nominated, Sundance- and Cannes-winning docu director of After Innocence and Sing!. Picking Cotton is the riveting true story of Jennifer Thompson, a Southern white college student who was violently raped at knifepoint, and Ronald Cotton, the black man she identified as her attacker in a lineup. After spending 11 years in prison, Cotton was exonerated and freed by DNA evidence. He acclimates to life as a free man and his accuser struggles with her guilt, and in an unlikely turn they become close friends and activists for criminal justice reform.

Sanders won the Sloan Science Foundation Award at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Discovery Award at the Los Cabos Film Festival to develop the Picking Cotton screenplay.

Mark O’Connor and Robert Lamonaca will oversee the project for SKE. Casting will commence immediately.

Penotti called Picking Cotton “an emotional, poignant and timely memoir that resonates deeply, and we are thrilled to be working in tandem with Jessica Sanders on the film adaptation. Her background as a documentary filmmaker and in-depth understanding of this critical subject matter will be invaluable as we aim to shine a spotlight on this significant story.”

Adds Sanders: “I’ve been passionate about Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton’s exceptional story since I featured them in After Innocence, a game-changer in criminal justice reform. Jennifer and Ronald’s story is deeply human and inspiring, exploring themes of redemption, injustice, love and friendship. I’m honored to bring their story to the big screen with producers Sidney Kimmel, John Penotti and their wonderful team, showing the healing power of forgiveness.”

SK Global is coming off the smash Warner Bros comedy Crazy Rich Asians, whose $238 million global gross makes it the sixth most successful romantic comedy of all time. Next up for SKE Films is the Neil Jordan psychological thriller Greta, the Isabelle Huppert-Chloe Grace Moretz-starrer that was bought by Focus Features in a splashy Toronto deal.

UTA Independent Film Group brokered the Picking Cotton deal for Sanders with SKE Head of Business and Legal Affairs Brian Kornreich, and the agency is also repping the film’s domestic rights.

Sanders is repped by UTA and Jackoway Austen Tyerman Wertheimer. Mosher is repped by Gersh and Circle of Confusion.