Model biopic unspooled at Venice

National Geographic Entertainment has acquired the film “Desert Flower” for U.S. distribution and plans an early 2011 release.

“Desert Flower,” which unspooled at the Venice Film Festival last year, follows the story of refugee Waris Dirie, who escaped Somalia at age 13 and spent her adolescence as a maid in her country’s London embassy. Dirie — who is portrayed by Liya Kedebe in the pic — eventually became a fashion model and the U.N. special ambassador for women’s rights in Africa.

Peter Hermann produced with Benjamin Hermann and Danny Krausz serving as co-producers. Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Juliet Stevenson, Craig Parkinson, Anthony Mackie and Meera Syal fill out the ensemble cast.

“Desert Flower” was written and directed by Germany’s Sherry Hormann and is based on Dirie’s autobio “Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Journey of a Desert Nomad.”

“Restrepo,” which won the documentary grand jury prize at Sundance earlier this year, was the last acquisition made by National Geographic. “Restrepo” follows a trio of NGE acquisitions — “The Wildest Dream,” “Amreeka” and “Blue Man Group: Mind Blast.”

Former Miramax president Daniel Battsek came on board in March as prexy of National Geograhic Films, replacing Adam Leipzig. National Geographic Films is in its second year of a joint venture with Imagenation Abu Dhabi to finance feature films, committing $100 million for 10-15 features over five years — giving Nat Geo the resources to acquire and distribute world film titles along with producing its own films.

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