Heiress to exec produce 'Bless Me, Ultima'

Wal-Mart heiress Christy Walton will finance and exec produce her first feature film, an adaptation of the Rudolfo Anaya novel “Bless Me, Ultima.”

Carl Franklin is set to write and direct the film, and Monkey Hill Films’ Sarah DiLeo will produce with Mark Johnson and his Gran Via Prods. as well as Jesse B. Franklin, who’ll produce through Monarch Pictures.

Walton, the widow of the late John Walton (a son of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton), is one of the wealthiest women in America; Forbes estimated her worth at $23.2 billion last year. Walton does not aspire to become a player in the movie business, though. In fact, her ambitions end with Anaya’s novel, and she established Tenaja Prods. as a single-purpose entity to finance the one film.

The novel is the turbulent coming-of-age story of Antonio, a youth growing up in New Mexico during WWII. He develops a relationship with Ultima, an elderly medicine woman who helps the young man navigate the battle between good and evil that rages in his village.

“It talks about magic, miracles, acceptance and reconciliation,” Walton said. “It’s a difficult book to adapt, and Carl is the person to do it.”

Walton’s quest to make the movie goes back to 2004, when she connected with DiLeo over a shared passion for the book. DiLeo then began courting Anaya, who initially rebuffed the overtures but finally relented when the producer crashed his vacation in La Paz, Mexico. She then enlisted Johnson, the “Chronicles of Narnia” producer who plugged in Franklin.

The producers said that having Walton aboard as financier gives them the ability to make a movie with full creative control and frees them to worry about distribution deals later on.

Franklin’s last feature was the Denzel Washington starrer “Out of Time”; his recent TV work includes “Rome” and upcoming HBO mini “The Pacific,” the latter exec produced by Steven Spielberg and Playtone partners Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman.

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