Saturday, January 16, 2010

Will "Hurt Locker" Director Kathryn Bigelow Helm Movie Of David Rohde's Kidnap Story? Hollywood Heavies Reported In Bidding War For Rights.

The buzz in Hollywood Friday was that Kathryn Bigelow, director of "The Hurt Locker" and odds-on favorite to pick up an Academy Award or two, had the inside track to direct the movie version of reporter David Rohde's NYT series, "Held By The Taliban."

But after a day that had Bigelow and several other Hollywood heavyweights either attached to the project or circling, a NYT spokeswoman issued a sweeping denial of all published reports. "No one is attached," she said.

A few Hollywood blogs picked up the Bigelow story as fact yesterday from a Thursday night tweet by Production Weekly. But by Friday afternoon, agents at International Creative Management (which represents the NYT in Hollywood) denied any deal with Bigelow to the The Hollywood Reporter.

Still, THR reported -- implying ICM as its source -- that the articles were already being circulated to "certain studios" with A-listers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall -- longtime associates of Steven Spielberg who've produced the "Bourne" trilogy and "Seabiscuit" -- on board to produce the adaptation.

Making the property even hotter -- at least in theory -- was the reported late entry of director Terence Malick in the race to make a movie from Rohde's account of his seven-month kidnapping by the Taliban last year. The NYT series, published in October, chronicled Rohde's capture, ordeal, and eventual escape over the wall of a Taliban compound in Pakistan last June.

Malick -- the celebrated, reclusive director of "Days Of Heaven" and "The Thin Red Line" -- is said by the Hollywood Reporter to want to pitch his own version of the material to studios with himself attached as producer. But as the Reporter story made clear, this scenario would seem unlikely with Kennedy and Marshall already on board.

THR went on to report that playwright Stephen Belber, the writer-director of "Management," the 2008 film starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn, was attached to write the screenplay.

But by Friday evening, a NYT spokeswoman denied to an MTV News blog that there was any truth to the accounts:

"This report is inaccurate. There is no movie deal," a Times spokeswoman told MTV News. Additionally, she countered "The Hollywood Reporter"'s claim that producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall and screenwriter Stephen Belber were attached as well. "There is no deal and no one is attached to the project," the spokeswoman stated.

Really? Because THR reported that "the deal for the articles, and who will direct or produce, is likely to be decided by the end of this weekend."

The spokeswoman's statement also didn't address whether a movie version of Rohde's story might finally address the questions left unanswered by Rohde's accout.

Here are just a few questions that remain:

Did the NYT consider paying a ransom for his release? New York Magazine reported that the paper had authorized a $2 million ransom payment, and the NYT has declined to comment on whether the paper had done so. The paper has only said publicly that "no ransom was paid."

Did the NYT, through its security consultants, pay Taliban guards to allow Rohde to escape? It makes little sense that a notoriously tough terrorist group would allow two prisoners to escape over a wall without notice. At the time of Rohde's release, Matthew Cole in New York Magazine reported that a bribe was paid to Taliban guards "to look the other way" during Rohde's late-night climb over the 20-foot wall.

Rohde acknowledged that money was paid to the Taliban through its consultants, though says he was told the cash never reached the guards:

Security consultants who worked on our case said cash was paid to Taliban members who said they knew our whereabouts. But the consultants said they were never able to identify or establish contact with the guards who were living with us.

As the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out in November, that statement "doesn't necessarily mean that the Times’s money never got to" the guards.

Why did the terrorists demand a wall of silence from media organizations, which prompted the NYT to beg journalists not to report the Rohde kidnapping? And why, with Rohde's account, did the NYT allow an incomplete version of events to be reported in the newspaper of record?

Rohde's series only offered readers his first-hand account of the ordeal -- compelling, but incomplete -- an approach that some readers questioned after it was published. NYT executive editor Bill Keller admitted that those questions were "legitimate" and agreed that its handling of the story was "unusual," but "not unprecedented."

When the series was published in November, a number of readers also wondered again about the NYT's decision to keep the kidnapping quiet. Keller pointed out that a media blackout often helps secure a release, but acknowledged that the Taliban's demand for silence -- which the NYT gave to other media organizations as the sole reason they should suppress their stories on Rohde -- didn't really make sense.

"In one of the first calls to our Kabul bureau, the kidnappers warned us not to publicize the crime," Keller told readers in a Q&A on the NYT's "At War" blog. "I don’t know how to reconcile that with their craving for attention except to say that we got a lot of mixed, even contradictory, messages from the captors. At the time, we had no reason not to take their call to keep quiet as a serious threat."

Will the Rohde movie finally explain what efforts were made at the NYT, within the American military, by outside security consultants and throughout the Middle East to secure his release? Even with a brilliant, no-holds-barred filmmaker like Kathryn Bigelow involved, we're not holding our breath.

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