Helmer options rights to character in 'Exonerated'

Director Micki Dickoff has optioned life rights to one of the characters whose oral history of life on death row runs through the Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank play “The Exonerated.”

Such thesps as Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss have taken part in the play, which just concluded a three-week benefit run on its way to an Off Broadway opening in fall 2001. “The Exonerated,” directed by Bob Balaban, is based on 12 of 40 interviews that Jensen and Blank conducted with exonerated death row inmates.

Dickoff, who has helmed documentaries on AIDS and human rights issues, produced and directed a 1996 ABC film, “In the Blink of an Eye,” based on her own intervention in the case of another former death row inmate, a childhood friend, whose story is also featured in “The Exonerated.”

Dickoff’s new project is based on the life of Kerrey Max Cook, who was acquitted of the rape and murder of a young woman in Tyler, Texas, and who spent 22 years on death row before being acquitted as a result of prosecutorial misconduct.

“It’s the most horrendous miscarriage of justice I’ve ever seen,” Dickoff said. “I passionately believe film can make a difference, and if you can touch people’s hearts you can change people’s minds.”

Dickoff bought the option with personal funds through Sterling Lord Literistic agent Jody Hotchkiss.

Blank and Jensen, who has just inked a deal to co-star in the 20th Century Fox/New Regency Martin Lawrence vehicle, “Black Night,” produced the play through the Culture Project and grants from other nonprofits.

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