U acquires ‘Zlata’s Diary’

Universal Pictures snapped up the film rights to “Zlata’s Diary” Tuesday, beating a number of competitors for a 12-year-old Bosnian girl’s record of the siege in Sarajevo. The rights sold for a seven-figure sum, sources said.

This is one of three projects for writer/director Phil Alden Robinson under a new three-year deal at Universal Pictures. In addition,he is working on a film set in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and a remake of Claude LeLouch’s “And Now My Love.”

The diary, which was smuggled out of Sarajevo, was published last year in France and became a runaway bestseller. It’s been published in 17 languages.

Viking Press bought the rights for publication in the United Kingdom and the United States, beating out 14 other publishers. The company has plans to publish the book this March with a 250,000-copy initial printing.

Robinson, who first traveled to Sarajevo in 1992 with a group of filmmakers and has done four documentaries on the area (all of which aired on ABC’s “Nightline”), has been attached to develop the project at Universal. Robinson has since traveled to Sarajevo a second time and has been involved in United Nations relief efforts for victims there.

He will co-produce the film with Sean Daniel.

Sources report that it was Robinson’s attachment that convinced Zlata Filipovic and her family to go with Universal Pictures, even though a number of directors, studios and independent financiers expressed interest in the project.

‘Front-row seat on a nightmare’ “It begins with (Zlata’s) daily life in peacetime Sarajevo,” Robinson said of the film. “She watches ‘Murphy Brown’ on TV, she loves ‘Ninja Turtles,’ she’s a very western urban kid. At a certain point, this charming young woman’s observations turn into front-row seat on a nightmare.”

It progresses to the breakup of Yugoslavia into warring nationalist-religious republics, telling the event from the young girl’s perspective. Eventually the girl and her family were evacuated to Paris.

About two weeks ago, her story appeared on ABC’s “PrimeTime Live” and in a front-page New York Times story, which kicked off the race in Hollywood. At that time, International Creative Management beat out a number of agencies to become the project’s official representative in Hollywood.

Robinson said he’s been wanting to make a film about the horrors in Sarajevo ever since his first visit to the former Yugoslavia. He returned this past September, in part to let the people he met originally know he’d not forgotten them.

“I’m so haunted by a lot of things I saw on that trip,” Robinson said. “Something just stayed with me. It’s just the most haunting place I’d been.”

Next on Robinson’s slate at Universal is a film he’s been developing with former members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Rounding out his slate is an adaptation of LeLouch’s epic “And Now My Love,” which he’ll co-produce with Mirage Entertainment.

“I’ve seen it about a dozen times,” Robinson said.

The filmmaker said he was attracted by the basic story. “It’s a construct for telling a lot of stories, covering every major event in the 20th century. You have to start over. LeLouch told it from a French point of view.”

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