For a filmmaker as established as producer and longtime Steven Spielberg collaborator Kathleen Kennedy, reinvention would seem superfluous for someone who seemingly has nothing to prove. But that’s exactly what she did recently by broadening her oeuvre with a diverse slate of pictures spanning from elaborate blockbusters to intimate foreign-language award winners.
She worked on two French-language projects, having produced Julian Schnabel’s “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” along with Jon Kilik, and exec produced the animated “Persepolis.” Both films were favorites at the Cannes Film Festival last year and got kudo-season love, particularly “Diving Bell,” which grabbed four Oscar nominations.
“Diving Bell,” based on the true tale of paralyzed French Elle editor Jean-Dominque Bauby’s quest to write a book by a code that involved blinking one eye, started out as a Universal project but ended up going the indie route — unusual for Kennedy — with financing from France’s Pathe. But Kennedy used her talent connections, including one of Spielberg’s favorite cinematographers, to build a rich production for the modestly budgeted pic.
“I’ve worked with Janusz Kaminski for several years now and thought he would be a wonderful collaborator with Julian,” she told Variety during award season, adding that making the film was an experience she enjoyed “from start to finish” and that “Julian and Janusz were so perfectly suited to find the visual language necessary to communicate Jean-Dominique’s extraordinary account of his lasting testament to life.”
At the same time that she juggled her smaller projects, she toiled on the bigger end of the scale: She exec produced Spielberg’s summer blockbuster “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” and DreamWorks’ family pic “The Spiderwick Chronicles” (released in February).
In post and headed for a December release is David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” an adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story starring Brad Pitt that could be viewed as a marriage between arthouse and studio event film. And she expects to start production in fall on Spielberg’s “Tintin,” based on the comicbook series by Belgian artist Herge.
Among several future projects are “Jurassic Park IV” and “Lincoln” with Spielberg. “And,” she says, “I’ll keep looking for another story that captures me as much as ‘Diving Bell’ did. It’s opportunities like that that make this business so worthwhile.”