Project focuses on rise of former Chinese premier

“I need an army,” says Steven North (“Vukovar”), who is producing “Challenging Heaven,” a birth-of-a-nation picture focused on the rise of former Chinese premier Mao Zedong.

Mixing Asian and American leads, pic is being put together with a $40 million-$60 million budget.

Lensing will start after next year’s Beijing Olympics in China and other Asian locations.

Pic interweaves the stories of poet-cum-revolutionary Mao, who between 1911 and 1949 achieved supreme power, and Sidney Rittenberg, a soldier who was twice incarcerated by him. Screenplay by John Goldsmith is an adaptation of two books: “Mao,” by BBC journo Philip Short and Rittenberg’s “The Man Who Stayed Behind.”

“Heaven” is being set-up as an assisted co-production and North is negotiating with Chinese authorities concerning use of extras needed for military shorts.

“This is a very positive portrayal of Mao, and we are hoping that one the script clears the approval process, China will come up with services and support,” North said.

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