Olivier Assayas wrote, directed project

Tapping into the growing trend toward biopic and gangster fare in Gaul, French paybox Canal Plus is co-producing and co-financing “Ilich — Story of Carlos,” a $18 million three-part series about the Venezuelan terrorist Ilich Ramirez Sanchez.

Penned and helmed by high-profile Gallic director Olivier Assayas (“Clean”), series started shooting in January with Venezuelan thesp Edgar Ramirez (“Che: Part One”) in the lead role.

Assayas, whose films “Clean,” “Demonlover” and “Les Destinees Sentimentales” have competed for a Palme d’Or, has never worked in TV before.

Daniel Leconte, topper at Paris-based docu and film shingle Film en Stock, developed the idea for a TV series. Assayas then conceived making a separate feature film based on the series.

For the first time, StudioCanal had teamed up with Canal Plus from the project’s initial stage to package “Carlos” into a movie as well.

“It is a risky bet,” explained Leconte, who said he had the idea of making “Carlos” after watching George Clooney starrer “Syriana.” “But there’s no reason why we couldn’t make an ambitious film dealing with complex characters or contemporary issues that touch on politics.”

Per Assayas, it’s the success of “Public Enemy Number One” that has helped lift French directors’ inhibitions about making films dealing with recent history and real people. 

“Not long ago, the idea of making a film about Carlos would have scared French producers,” Assayas said. “But nowadays I sense that we’re being encouraged to make films that have a contemporary dimension.”

The helmer, however, explained that the film is more intricately dramatic than political.

Skedded to air on Canal Plus in early 2010, the three-parter is shooting in French, German and Arabic and in various countries including Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Lebanon and Morocco.

While filming the series, Assayas is writing an original script for the “Carlos” film and will deliver it to StudioCanal in September. 

“We sold ‘Red Riding,’ a British TV trilogy but this is even more ambitious: We’re selling two products from the same inspiration,” said Harold Van Lier, Studio Canal’s international sales topper.

 Van Lier said the idea of packaging the project as a TV series and film together helped StudioCanal find co-producers and raise the budget.

Backed by Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), the miniseries and pic are co-produced by German shingle Egoli Tossell Film  and Madrid-based shingle Morena Films.

Gallic shingle will start pre-selling the miniseries and film at the AFM and is shooting for theatrical release in late April, in time for the Cannes Film Festival.

“Assayas has a well-established cinema circuit that makes the production very ambitious and will likely propel the film under an international spotlight,” said Van Lier.

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