Screenwriter Margaret Nagle hustled to find a home for “The Good Lie” for 11 years.
After reading a story in Variety about the late producer Robert Newmyer attempts to make a movie about the young boys forced to flee war-torn and famine-ridden Sudan, Nagle was inspired to write her screenplay. After Newmyer died in 200, she saw the film hopscotch around various studios and production companies before finding a champion in producer Molly Smith and a home at Black Label Media and Alcon Entertainment.
That journey ended with a 10-minute standing ovation on Sunday afternoon after “The Good Lie” had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival. Warner Bros. will release the film on Oct. 3.
“It’s a relief because I feel such a commitment to the thousands of lost boys,” said Nagle at a party for the film. “Sudan is in a huge crisis right now. We need to understand it better and we can help there.”
Smith, who is the daughter of FedEx CEO and Alcon founder Fred Smith, said she embraced Nagle’s pitch partly because her family had semi-adopted a Sudanese refugee.
“[Margaret] does an amazing job of putting you in their shoes and allowing you to experience what it would feel like to immigrate to a foreign land and have to adjust,” said Smith.
The producer and Black Label Media chief also gave credit to Reese Witherspoon for ceding the spotlight to a cast made up primarily of Sudanese newcomers. Witherspoon, who is generating a lot of Oscar buzz for another festival film, “Wild,” plays a supporting role here as an employment counselor named Carrie whose life intersects with those of the boys.
“She was the anchor I knew I needed to help bring audiences to the story,” said Smith. “She told me, ‘I want to be a part of this story, I know it’s not Carrie’s story, but it’s such a powerful story and I want my kids to be able to learn about this.'”
Director Philippe Falardeau (“Monsieur Lazhar”) has a background as a documentarian and photographer, and was intimately familiar with the bloodshed and displacement that have beset Sudan, having journeyed to the region on assignment in 1994.
“It was a tough time and the toughest thing was to leave there not knowing if the people I’d met would die in the war or from the famine,” said Falardeau. “When I read Margaret Nagle’s script two years ago, the script could have been really bad and I think I’d have said, ‘I need to do this as some sort of redemption.’ Fortunately, it was a good script.”
Though most of the boys in the film were Sudanese-Americans with limited acting experience, one of the main players, Arnold Oceng, had extensive credits in his native United Kingdom. Though his professional expertise trumped his co-stars’, he was often the student.
“I was like a sponge soaking up their information,” he said. “I had to learn from them and mimic them to make my character more realistic.”
Nagle said she hopes that the picture inspires audiences to learn about ways they can get involved in helping the people of Sudan. It’s a film that tugs at the heartstrings, and that’s exactly what she was aiming to do.
“You can make a political point emotionally,” said Nagle. “Not as propaganda, but if you can emotionally understand these kids, you get it and then you’re motivated.”