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LG in ‘Grey’ domestic zone

Co. nabs rights to Toronto premiere pic

NEW YORK — Lions Gate Films has taken all domestic distribution rights to Tim Blake Nelson’s “The Grey Zone,” which makes its world premiere at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival.

Lions Gate nabbed the rights just as Nelson’s long-delayed and controversial “O,” another Lions Gate release, opens nationally Aug. 31.

Pic centers on the Sonderkommando — Jews forced to work in the crematoria of Auschwitz against their fellow Jews and helping the Nazis in their executions. Nelson based both play and film on Nazi Dr. Miklos Nyiszli’s nonfiction book “Auschwitz: A Doctor’s Eyewitness Account.”

Based on Nelson’s Obie Award-winning Off Broadway play, “The Grey Zone” stars Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, David Arquette, Mira Sorvino, Daniel Benzali, Natasha Lyonne and Allen Corduner.

Avi Lerner’s Millennium Films financed the pic. Producers were Nelson, Christine Vachon and Pam Koffler of Gotham-based Killer Films. Exec producers were Keitel; Peggy Gormley of Goatsingers; and Avi and Danny Lerner via their Millennium Films banner.

“I think ‘Grey Zone’ is one of the most amazing films,” Lions Gate Films president Tom Ortenberg said. “It’s devastating in its impact, and we were anxious to continue our relationship with Tim after ‘O.’ ”

Added Nelson: “There is no film more important to me personally, and I wanted a company I like and respect to distribute the film — Lions Gate is that company. If you look at the major indie distributors, Lions Gate is putting out the riskiest films. They’re proving themselves with ‘O,’ and I know they’ll do so with ‘The Grey Zone.’ ”

“O” stars Mekhi Phifer, Julia Stiles and Josh Hartnett. Lions Gate nabbed domestic rights after Miramax opted not to distribute the pic.

Keitel plays Nyiszli, stuck in the moral gray zone along with the Jewish prisoners, wanting only to live.

An actor who appeared in the Coen brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” Nelson’s debut film was “Eye of God,” also based on a play he wrote.

Lions Gate’s films in release include Maggie Greenwald’s “Songcatcher,” starring Janet McTeer and Aidan Quinn, and “Lost and Delirious,” starring Piper Perabo. Upcoming films include “Liam” from director Stephen Frears; Bill Paxton’s directorial debut “Frailty”; and “The Wash,” starring Dr. Dre and Snoop Dog.

Deal was negotiated by Ortenberg, Peter Block and Guy Stodel on behalf of Lions Gate and by Avi Lerner for Millennium.

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