In an abrupt departure for one of Hollywood’s most political and personal directors, John Sayles is attempting to assemble a collective of foreign partners to finance the April 15 start of the children’s pic “The Secret of Roan and Inish.”

Sayles said the rights to the project will be sold on a territory-by-territory basis, with foreign financiers also receiving the option of equity ownership in the pic. Negotiations are ongoing with distributors to cover the project’s budget, estimated at $ 6 million to $ 7 million.

North American theatrical and video rights to “Roan and Inish” will be held back until after the production’s completion, Sayles said, acknowledging that the value of North American video rights for children’s movies was one of strongest upsides to the pic.

Based on a novel by Rosalie K. Fry, the project is about a girl’s search for her baby brother, who was swept out to sea when her family evacuated an island. Legend has it her brother is still alive and the girl sets out to sea to see whether it is true.

To be produced by Sarah Green and Maggie Renzi, “Roan” is skedded for a 60 -day shoot in the British Isles, taking advantage of the Section 35 Tax Investment program currently attracting producers to the Republic of Ireland.

“We know we have to allow more time (in the production schedule) for animals, kids and weather, as well the changing conditions of Ireland,” co-producer Green said. “But one of the things we are excited about is combining what works on an American low-budget movie with how people work in a foreign country.”

“Roan” represents a creative departure for Sayles. He has spent the first 14 years of his Hollywood career mixing such indie films as “The Return of the Secaucus Seven,””Lianna,””Matewan” and “City of Hope” with more mainstream efforts such as “Baby, It’s You,””Eight Men Out” and the screenplays “Piranha” and “The Howling.” Nary a kid’s pic has crossed his plate.

Plans for “Roan and Inish” come just as Miramax readies release of the Sayles-directed “Passion Fish.” Skedded to begin Oscar engagements in Los Angeles today and in New York Dec. 13, distributor Miramax is attempting to gain an Academy Award buzz for stars Mary McDonnell, Alfre Woodard and David Strathairn.

Sayles said there are a handful of projects he is developing that could evolve into studio releases. But he said he’s satisfied directing his own independent features for now.

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