EXCLUSIVE: Film and TV producers are chasing hard to win screen rights to the remarkable true story of a group of boys who survived for more than a year on a deserted Pacific island.
Dubbed ‘the real Lord Of The Flies‘, the story has exploded since being published by the Guardian last week in their preview of historian and author Rutger Bregman’s uplifting book Humankind, which is published in the UK today.
The narrative follows how in 1965 six friends, teenagers bored with their life at a boarding school on the Pacific island of Tonga, stole a fishing boat and set off on an adventure. A massive storm destroyed their vessel and after eight days drifting on the open waters, they washed up on a remote, uninhabited island. Marooned there, the boys overcame incredible adversity, largely through team work, ingenuity and resolve. Unlike William Golding’s classic tale of savagery, this is a story about the enduring power of friendship and loyalty. The boys managed to survive for 15 months – eating fish, coconuts, and birds – before being rescued by an Australian sailor whose interest in the island was piqued when he noticed unusual burning patches on its green cliffs.
We hear there is significant film and limited series interest from players in U.S., UK and beyond, including studios. Producers are looking into rights to the story but some are also exploring life rights of characters involved. UK outfit The Agency is handling the excerpt’s screen auction but was unavailable for comment. However, we hear that a deal could make soon.
The story of how Bregman pieces the little-known narrative together is worthy of a screen version in itself or could make a nice bookend for any screen retelling. Bregman tracked down the sailor – who himself has an interesting backstory – through some nifty detective work and travels to meet him in the Australian outback. It turns out the friendship between him and the boys has endured to this day.
The Guardian article has traveled far and wide. It has been read more than seven million times and shared by Russell Crowe, U.S. senator Ted Cruz and former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, among others.
Bregman acknowledged adaptation interest in the story last week, tweeting that he is being “bombarded with emails from producers and directors.”
Jojo Rabbit and Thor: Ragnarok director Taika Waititi replied, amid growing online discussion over who should tell the story and how: “Love this story. Personally, I think you should prioritize Polynesian (Tongan if possible!) filmmakers to avoid cultural appropriation, misrepresentation, and to keep the Pasifika voice authentic. I’m probably not available lol”:
It’s unclear where the story will end up but some industry have speculated to us that an international home might make most sense. The whole tale has echoes of the Thai Cave rescue episode, the Chilean miners story and how UK and Australian producers pursued the remarkable true story of Saroo Brierley, which ultimately became Oscar-nominated box office hit Lion.
As ever with fascinating true stories, there will be various layers to navigate. One of the rescued Tongans told the Guardian in a follow-up article last week that he is only prepared to share “highlights” of his story at this stage: “I don’t want anybody to tell my full story until I publish a book from it, maybe make some living for my grandchildren,” said Sione Filipe Totau.
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