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Columbus sets sail on Kennedy film

Feature to focus on RFK's presidential run

Chris Columbus will direct a feature about Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential run.

In his first deal since forming a first-look alliance with India-based Reliance Big Entertainment, Columbus and his 1492 Prods. have acquired screen rights to the Thurston Clarke book “The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America.”

Columbus will produce with 1492 partners Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe. Columbus will write the script solo or invite another scribe to work with him. That choice will depend on his availability, as Columbus is currently finalizing a directing project for early next year.

Kennedy’s idealistic campaign, which focused squarely on poverty, racism and ending the unpopular Vietnam War, resonated with Columbus and his 1492 partners. While losing his iconic brother made him wary of crowds, Kennedy refused to insulate himself from the public during his run.

“Chris was inspired by the fearlessness Robert showed in those 82 days,” Barnathan said.

That resolve was tested on the day that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and Kennedy was scheduled to speak in Indianapolis.

“He refused to call it off, or surround himself with police,” Barnathan said. “Most of that crowd learned of Dr. King’s murder from him, and he gave a moving off-the-cuff speech. Here, the second hero of his life had been murdered, and rather than crawl behind bulletproof glass, he stood tall.”

Columbus’ 1492 banner was among several top companies that lost their studio deals in a wave of overall pact attrition, so its alliance with Reliance heralds a new way of doing business. Reliance will fund development for projects it can co-finance with studios, and the Indian company is positioned to bankroll DreamWorks’ next incarnation. 1492 was dropped by Warner Bros., its home since Columbus directed the first two Harry Potter films, and Barnathan said the new arrangement has definite advantages.

“There are so many layers and people who need to sign off in studio deals that it can push a deal back weeks,” Barnathan said. “Here, we talk to one person, CEO Amit Khanna. … Being able to develop and package a project allows us to take it to the studio best suited for it.”

The Reliance deal doesn’t pay overhead the way its studio pacts did, but 1492 has a number of projects in the works, including “I Love You, Beth Cooper,” which Columbus just directed for Fox Atomic, and “Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian.” That was the first project bought when 1492 began an overall Fox deal in 1994, and Columbus, Barnathan and Radcliffe are producing the sequel with director Shawn Levy.

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