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‘Water Diviner’: Russell Crowe Digs Into Australia’s Past in Helming Bow

Thesp-turned-helmer’s film explores a critical moment in country’s history

Russell Crowe is feeling passionate about his directorial debut “The Water Diviner,” with shooting starting Dec. 2 in Australia.

“It’s a love story above all and it’s very culturally significant,” Crowe told Variety at AFM. “This is where Australia became Australia.”

Crowe has been in Santa Monica meeting with international buyers and unspooling a sizzle reel at the American Film Market, where Mister Smith Entertainment has started selling the project.

Producers are Andrew Mason and Troy Lum for Hopscotch Features, and Keith Rodger for Crowe’s own Fear of God Films. RatPac Entertainment, which recently concluded a slate funding deal with Warner Bros. in partnership with Dune Entertainment, is making its first moves into independent film and has come on board with production funding for this, its first indie project. RatPac founders James Packer and Brett Ratner will serve as exec producers for the film.

Crowe will portray an Australian farmer who — four years after Turkey’s Battle of Gallipoli during World War I — travels to Istanbul to discover the fate of his sons, reported missing in the action. Olga Kurylenko will play the Turkish woman who owns the hotel in which he stays.

“It feels very natural for me to be directing a film, since I’ve directed videos and documentaries,” he said. “I’ve spent a lot of time on sets for the last 20 years.”

Crowe admits a strong affection for Peter Weir’s “Gallipoli,” released in 1981.

“I love Peter Weir’s film but this is not that,” he noted. “The last scene in that film is a freeze frame of one of the young boys getting killed in battle. So this is where the story picks up — what happened to the people who lost loved ones.”

Crowe began working on the project in 2011 and was in “pre pre pre prep” by January. He made three trips to Turkey and met with Kurylenko to persuade her to take the part.

“She’s Ukrainian and that’s very good for this story, which is told in English, French and Turkish,” Crowe said. “We also have several of the biggest Turkish box office stars — Yilmaz Erdogan from ‘The Butterfly’s Dream’ and Cem Yilmaz, who is the most beloved Turkish star.”

Crowe is also delighted fellow Australian Jai Courtney is in the cast and has been training with the several Aussie actors in horseback riding and gun handling. “I think they have an emotional commitment to the story,” he added.

Crowe recently completed filming on “Noah” and “Winter’s Tale.”

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