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10 Directors to Watch: ‘Belle’ Tolls for Actress-Turned-Helmer Amma Asante

Fox Searchlight will release Asante's sophomore feature in the spring

Like many directors, Amma Asante began her career as an actor, appearing on the long-running British show “Grange Hill” while still in her teens. She made her directorial debut in 2004 with the award-winning “A Way of Life,” which centered on a single teen mother.

Her second film, “Belle,” premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and will be released by Fox Searchlight in 2014. Written by Misan Sagay, the film tells the amazing true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, a biracial daughter of a Royal Navy captain, who fought to end slavery in England. Belle was depicted in a famous 1779 painting by an unknown painter, carrying fruit and wearing a turban.

It took Asante four years to bring “Belle” to the bigscreen. She was doing rewrites on her wedding day and by her ailing father’s bedside. “He died an hour later, and we were shooting those scenes the next day,” she says.

The leap between her first film and the period piece “Belle” — which also features Miranda Richardson and Tom Wilkinson — appears enormous. However, according to Asante, “I do see a common thread. I’m interested in an emotional journey, a story that can make me laugh and cry at the same time, and I’m very interested in exploring themes around women and their journeys.”

While she hasn’t determined her next directing endeavor yet, she hopes to hear soon about a project she’s in the running for. Mostly, she wants to make movies that inspire discussion.

“There’s nothing worse than seeing a movie and saying, ‘OK, what do you want to go and eat after?’ Good or bad, you want people to talk about it.”

Stats:
› Age: 44
› Home base: Holland, but “I travel literally weekly to London and keep an apartment there.”
› Agents: CAA (U.S.); Natasha Galloway (United Agents, U.K.)

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