Showtime at ‘War’

Donnelly inks for battle-themed pic series

NEW YORK – Writer-director Tom Donnelly has made a deal to hatch a series of Showtime films called “War Stories.” Donnelly and producer Marianne Moloney will focus on various subjects, all pertaining to some element of battle. Each will be produced by Paramount and the series will be shepherded by Showtime’s Jerry Offsay.

His first film, “The Garden of Redemption,” stars Anthony LaPaglia as a priest in Italy who watches as his parishioners are dragged away and murdered by Nazis, and who is forced to find the courage to take action. Embeth Davidtz and Dan Hedaya co-star. Donnelly and Moloney are showing the film to distributors in hopes of securing a theatrical window before it goes to Showtime.

“Both Showtime and Paramount agreed to move the airdate back because they felt it belongs as a theatrical,” said Donnelly, who based the script on a short story by his cousin Anthony DeFranco. “The whole series will be based on material that has something to do with war, and the next one will be about Vietnam, there will be one set in Bosnia, another in World War II. The umbrella is they must be dramatic, very moving pieces. There is a wealth of rich material available, because war brings out the best and worst in people.”

Three pics have been firmed, with two more expected to be in production this year. The next will be “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” which Donnelly will write and direct, with Moloney producing. It’s based on a short story by National Book Award-winner Tim O’Brien that was part of the collection “The Things They Carried.” The duo are pursuing rights to “The Balkan Express,” written by Croatian journalist Slovenka Drakulic about two innocents caught in a terrible incident. Other writers and directors will be brought in as the series takes off, and they’ll be executive producers on the episodes they’re not directly involved in. They’re also eyeing top acting talent for roles.

“The artistic posture of these pieces attracts talent you wouldn’t think of for the kind of small budgets here,” said Donnelly. “Actors are artists first, and we’re all starving to paint pictures. The material is strong stuff, not formula, and doesn’t have to be resolved happily.”

Donnelly also wrote a six-hour miniseries for Showtime based on the life of the Bonanno crime family, which Joe Bonanno’s son and Dan Paulson are co-producing.

“It’s the entire life of Joseph Bonanno, the oldest surviving godfather and one of the original godfathers of the five families of New York,” said Donnelly. “He still exists at 92, and has never been put in jail. I had the privilege of sitting and talking to him for three years. It will shoot this summer.”

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