India's Kapur to direct Mandela biopic

Indian helmer Shekhar Kapur (“Bandit Queen”) will direct “Long Walk to Freedom,” the biopic of South African president Nelson Mandela to be produced by London/Durban-based producer Anant Singh.

William Nicholson is penning the script, with the filmmakers anticipating a budget in the $40 million to $50 million range. Kapur, who signed onto the project about a month ago, is working with Nicholson on the script and has made a research visit to South Africa, where he hopes to begin lensing in August for an October 1999 release.

“Walk” will be shot mainly in South Africa, with limited lensing in France and London.

CAA’s John Ptak and Emanuel Nunez are repping the film, which Singh says will be independently financed through equity investors.

Though the filmmakers wouldn’t confirm it, sources say Guy East and Nigel Sinclair’s Intermedia looks like the front-runner to handle international sales. The Intermedia toppers and a few other sales agents and acquisitions execs — including Fine Line’s Mark Ordesky and Tony Safford of Fox — were among those invited for the May 18 announcement of Kapur’s involvement.

Intermedia previously backed Nicholson’s debut helming stint, “Firelight,” which Miramax will release in the U.S. The company and Sydney Pollack’s Mirage Enterprises also are developing the drama “Dark Grace,” to which Kapur is attached to direct.

The filmmakers’ reps are also talking to North American distributors to co-finance the film.

With Kapur on board, the next major “Walk” component will be a star. Filmmakers wouldn’t discuss which actors they were talking to for the role.

Singh’s project, based on Mandela’s 1994 autobio, will span 70 years, including his days as a freedom fighter, his 27 years in jail and his eventual elevation as one of the world’s most respected leaders.

Kapur entered the international spotlight with his 1994 “Bandit Queen,” and his follow-up is the biopic “Elizabeth” for Polygram and Working Title Films.

“Long Walk to Freedom” has been in development since March 1996, when Mandela granted Singh the film rights to his autobio. Singh is also developing a film about Amy Biehl, the American Fulbright scholar who was murdered in 1993 by Pan African Congress militants in Cape Town.

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