Project is adaptation of Waris Dirjes autobiography

New York model Liya Kebede (“Lord of War”) has been cast as the lead in “Desert Flower,” the $16 million adaptation of Waris Dirjes’ bestselling autobiography, which recounts her rise from a childhood in the Somali desert to the catwalks of the international fashion biz.

In her book, Dirjes speaks out against the custom of female circumcision, still practiced among certain tribes in Somalia and other African countries.

“It’s as much a story about human rights and as a Cinderella fairytale come true,” said the pic’s German producer Peter Herrmann.

Herrmann managed to secure the rights to the book after it had been in development with Elton John’s Rocket Pictures, whose option ran out.

“The book had been on my radar since it was published in 1997. When I heard that the rights had become available again, I immediately tried to get them, but it took me nine months to convince Waris Dirjes to give them to me,” said Herrmann.

Dirjes is co-producer on the project and has approval rights on the script, which is penned by German-American helmer Sherry Horman, who also will direct the film.

“It was important to us that the script has a real entertainment value because that’s the only way we can reach a wide audience and get Waris’ message across about the cruelty of female circumcision,” added Herrmann.

Herrmann structured the pic as an Austrian, French and German co-production, raising coin through subsidies from NRW, Berlin Brandenburg and Bavaria as well as Eurimage and the German production fund.

In addition, Herrmann also secured gap financing through the NRW Bank in Duesseldorf. This is unusual, as until now German banks have not been prepared to offer gap coin.

Pic’s German distrib is Majestic Filmverleih. Match Factory is handling international sales.

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