Searchlight sips ‘Water’

Mehta pic to preem at Toronto fest Sept. 8

Fox Searchlight has acquired U.S. distribution rights to writer-director Deepa Mehta’s “Water,” which will open the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 8.

Pic is Mehta’s third feature in her “elemental trilogy.” First two films were “Fire” (1996) and “Earth” (1998).

Production on the controversial pic had to be shut down in India in 2000 following rioting by fundamentalist Hindus and death threats aimed at Mehta. Five years elapsed before the production restarted secretly in Sri Lanka.

“Water” was produced by David Hamilton (“Bollywood/Hollywood”) and exec produced by Doug Mankoff of Echo Lake Prods. and Mark Burton of Accomplice Films. Pic was financed by David Hamilton Prods., Echo Lake Prods. and Telefilm Canada.

In a joint statement, Searchlight prexy of marketing Nancy Utley and exec VP of production Claudia Lewis said they were “humbled that Deepa has entrusted us” with her film, calling it “a labor of love for everyone at Fox Searchlight.”

Set in colonial India during Mahatma Gandhi’s rise to power, “Water” follows a young Hindu girl who is forced to live in a home for widows.

“Water” stars Lisa Ray, Seema Biswas and Bollywood regular John Abraham. The role of its 8-year-old central character is played by Sarala, a young Sri Lankan with no prior experience as a film actor. Speaking neither Hindi nor English, Sarala learned her lines phonetically, directed by Mehta through an interpreter.

Mehta also co-wrote and directed “Republic of Love,” based on the novel of the same name by Carol Shields, starring Bruce Greenwood and Amelia Fox, and “Camilla,” a Canadian/U.K. co-production that starred Jessica Tandy and Bridget Fonda.

For television, she directed several episodes of “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles,” produced by George Lucas for ABC.

“Water” will be released in Canada on Nov. 4 by Mongrel Media.