Jesus on trial in South African pic

JOHANNESBURG — A courtroom-style feature focusing on the trial of Jesus Christ is to be filmed in Cape Town, producer Roy Rudolphe said Thursday.

“It will be a fast, gripping and intense story of the court drama,” Rudolphe, of Cape Town-based Riverstone Prods., told Daily Variety. “Although a period production, it will be presented in a bold, contemporary way. Language will be contemporary English.”

Rudolphe added that much of the movie will center on the relationship between high priest Caiaphas, who demanded Jesus be put to death, and Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who repeatedly declared him innocent.

The screenplay is by Gordon Thomas, whose credits include “Voyage of the Damned,” “Earthquake” and “Enola Gay,” and is adapted from his book “Trial,” which has sold 850,000 copies in 23 countries.

According to Rudolphe, negotiations are under way with some international producers regarding financing of the movie, which will carry a budget of $10 million to $12 million — “even more if we manage to draw some top names,” Rudolphe said.

Talks are also under way with a number of foreign-based actors for key roles in the movie, but the cast will mainly be South African, Rudolphe said.

Co-producer Dianne Beatty said the project marks Riverstone’s first major feature film.

“Trial” was initially slated to be shot in Israel but political instability torpedoed the project, which was then offered to Riverstone by Thomas, who is working with the company on another full-length production, “Mambo,” about a lovable elephant.

Production is due to begin in the middle of next year, with release expected at Easter 1999.

Riverstone Prods. is currently in production with All American Television and Atlantis Films of Canada on the second season of the U.S.syndicated TV series “Sinbad.”

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