Smith signs to helm Canadian miniseries

'Dangerous' vet to helm first Canuck project in five years

MONTREAL — Toronto-based helmer John N. Smith, best-known for the Hollywood Pictures hit “Dangerous Minds,” has signed to direct the Canuck TV miniseries “Random Passage,” his first Canadian-made project in five years.

“Random Passage,” an eight-hour Newfoundland-set drama, reunites Smith with Canadian scripter Des Walsh, who co-wrote the 1992 miniseries “The Boys of St. Vincent.” Smith directed and co-wrote “The Boys,” a harrowing look at abuse in a Church-run orphanage which was sold around the world and had a theatrical run in New York City.

Fall release

Smith’s most recent pic is the 20th Century Fox production “A Cool, Dry Place,” which is set to be released in the fall. The drama toplines Vince Vaughn, Joey Lauren Adams, Monica Potter and Devon Sawa, and was scripted by Matthew McDuffie, based on the novel “Dance Real Slow” by Michael Grant Jaffe.

Walsh’s script for “Random Passage” is adapted from two novels by Newfoundland writer Bernice Morgan, “Random Passage” and “Waiting for Time.” The miniseries is an epic tale about British and Irish immigrants making the trek to rural Newfoundland at the beginning of the 19th-century.

The drama will be lensed, for the most part, on location in Newfoundland, with some interiors in Montreal and several days of shooting in England. Production is set to kick off next winter and continue for several months. Casting will be announced in June and, given that there are principal characters from England and Ireland, the producers expect to ink several well-known thesps from those countries.

The producers are Lorraine Richard of Montreal-based Cite-Amerique and Barbara Doran and Jennice Ripley of Passage Films in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Executive producer is John Buchanan. Cite-Amerique Intl. will be handling global sales. Canadian pubcaster the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) has inked a development deal and will likely buy the completed miniseries, per Richard.

“It’s great to have John because he forms a good team with Des,” said Richard, president of Cite-Amerique. “It’s also great to see a Canadian director who can do Canadian things and Hollywood projects.”

Higher profile

“Random Passage” is part of a major upswing into more high-profile production for Cite-Amerique, which used to concentrate mostly on the local French-Canadian TV market.

Shooting begins next week in Montreal on “Take Me Away” (Emporte-Moi), the first new feature in several years from Swiss-Canadian helmer Lea Pool.

The autobiographical coming-of-age tale about a 14-year-old girl was scripted by Pool and Calgary-born, Paris-based novelist Nancy Huston, and stars Yugoslavian actor Miki Manojlovic (“Artemisia,” “Underground”) and Quebec thesp Pascale Bussieres (“When Night Is Falling”). It is a Canadian-Swiss-French co-production teaming Cite-Amerique with Paris-based Haut et Court and Zurich’s Captics.

Next up for Cite-Amerique is its first English-language feature, “Four Days,” the directorial debut from Toronto rock-video helmer Curtis Wehrfritz. Based on the novel by Montreal writer John Buell, “Four Days” is a road movie about a teenager who becomes the unwitting accomplice of his father during a holdup. Richard and Cite-Amerique will also be producing the next pic from director Charles Biname (“Eldorado”), “La Beaute de Pandore,” with thesp Bussieres in the lead role. Biname is penning the script right now.

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