EXCLUSIVE: Magnolia Pictures and mk2 have acquired rights to Oscar-nominated filmmaker Raoul Peck’s Untitled Ernest Cole Documentary, about South Africa’s first Black freelance photographer.
Magnolia’s deal is for North American rights, while mk2 takes international; mk2 is launching international sales at the Cannes Market, which opens Tuesday.
Cole (1940-1970) documented apartheid in South Africa not as an outsider but someone who experienced its cruelties. Under the country’s racist system, Black people could only be employed as laborers; nonetheless, Cole became a photographer, a defiance of rules that made him a “banned person” and forced him to flee to the United States. He continued making important documentary photography in New York, but at his death he had published a single book, House of Bondage (1967) and the whereabouts of much of his unpublished work remained unknown.
Only a few years ago, “more than 60,000 of his 35mm film negatives were inexplicably discovered in a bank vault in Stockholm, Sweden,” according to a release about the Untitled Ernest Cole Documentary. “Most considered these forever lost, especially the thousands of pictures he shot in the U.S. Told through Cole’s own writings, the stories of those closest to him, and the lens of his uncompromising work, the film is a reintroduction of a pivotal Black artist to a new generation and will unravel the mystery of his missing negatives.”
Peck, a native of Haiti, where he served as minister of culture from 1996-’97, earned his Oscar nomination for I Am Not Your Negro, his portrait of James Baldwin.
“Ernest Cole’s long and, at times, painful and tedious journey in America brings me back to a period of my life when my political commitment and artistic stamina were forged,” Peck said in a statement. “I profoundly feel, cherish, and treasure his human eye on the facts of life and his piercing acuity over our terrible contradictions.”
Magnolia Pictures plans a theatrical release of the Untitled Ernest Cole Documentary at a date to be announced. Magnolia released I Am Not Your Negro in the U.S. in 2016.
“The opportunity to serve auteurs like the great Raoul Peck is why we do this work,” said Magnolia Pictures Co-CEO Dori Begley. “With his incomparable vision and integrity as our guide, team Magnolia can’t wait to help share the extraordinary story of this essential artist with audiences.”
Velvet Film, Peck’s production company, “has the full collaboration of the Ernest Cole Family Estate helmed by Cole’s nephew Leslie Matlaisane, who has granted Peck exclusive access to the totality of the family’s archive, including images never previously seen by the public,” a release noted. The film is produced by Raoul Peck and Tamara Rosenberg (O.J.: Made In America).
The unexpected recovery of Cole’s negatives has prompted a resurgence of interest in his work. International exhibitions of his photographs are coming in the fall, as is the publication of a book by Aperture of Cole’s photographs documeting Black life in America.
Fionnuala Jamison, mk2 Films’ managing director, said, “The combination of a powerful human rights story, Ernest Cole’s own struggles as an exiled artist, and the mystery around his negatives and legacy promise to deliver an incredibly moving and thrilling film from the masterful documentarian.”
The acquisition deal was negotiated by Magnolia Co-CEO Dori Begley, as well as SVP of Acquisitions John Von Thaden, and by Range Media Partners on behalf of mk2 and the filmmakers.
Peck is represented by Range Media Partners and Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein Lezcano Bobb & Dang.
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