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Phares et Balises Ramps Up TV Drama Production, Expands Into Film (EXCLUSIVE)

Phares et Balises, one of France’s top documentary production banners, is expanding its slate of high-profile drama series and moving into feature films.

The Paris-based company, launched 25 years ago by Jean Labib, has partnered up with Alvaro Longoria (“Everybody Knows”) of Spain’s Morena Films and Laura Bickford (“Traffic”) in the U.S. to develop the feature film “The Man Who Loved Dogs,” which “Narcos” helmer Jose Padilha is attached to direct. The English-language project, adapted from Leonardo Padura’s novel, is a multilayered political thriller revolving around the encounter between a struggling Cuban writer and an exiled Spaniard who turns out to be the man who assassinated Leon Trotsky in Mexico City in 1940.

Phares et Balises has also recently hired French veteran producer Marco Cherqui, whose credits include Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet.” Cherqui is currently developing a roster of ambitious drama series, notably Rebecca Zlotowski’s “Les Sauvages” and Jean-Marc Rudnicki’s “After the Crash,” and the feature project “Visceral,” co-written by Frederic Jardin (“Sleepless Night”).

Adapted from Sabri Louatah’s novel, “Les Sauvages” takes place in France on the eve of a presidential runoff election pitting a conservative nominee against an independent candidate, Ider Chaouch, of North African origin. The series follows two brothers, Fouad, the charismatic star of a popular sitcom, and Nazir, a leader of a local mosque, and their young teenage cousin, who has been radicalized and trained to shoot Chaouch after the election.

Zlotowski, who will direct “Les Sauvages,” made her feature debut with “Belle Epine,” which world premiered at Cannes’ Critics’ Week. Her sophomore outing, “Grand Central,” played at Un Certain Regard. Her latest film, “Planetarium,” a fantasy-filled period drama with Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp, premiered in Venice and played in Toronto.

Author Louatah is writing the adaptation with Zlotowski and David Elkaim (“ainsi soient-il”). Canal Plus is co-developing “Les Sauvages” with Phares et Balises and Scarlett Production, another French outfit.

“After the Crash,” adapted from Michel Bussi’s bestselling novel (“Un Avion Sans Elle”), takes place in the aftermath of a 1977 plane crash near the French-Swiss border that leaves only one survivor, a three-month-old baby. An investigation is launched to find the identity of the infant, but the task proves near impossible in the absence of DNA testing.

The four-part psychological thriller is being co-developed by Phares et Balises and Rififilms, and has been ordered by commercial network M6. Budgeted at €5.2 million ($6.2 million), the series is expected to start shooting in April.

Lastly, Cherqui is re-teaming with Jardin, the director of “Nuit Blanche” – the French thriller that was remade into “Sleepless” with Jamie Foxx – on “Visceral,” an English-language thriller. Jardin wrote the original French script with Nicolas Saada (“Sleepless Night,” “Taj Mahal”) and Olivier Fox (“Spiral”). Stephen Prentice (“Tormented”) penned the English-language version. Phares et Balises is developing the film with Frida Torresblanco of Braven Films (“Disobedience”).

“Visceral” follows a young cardiac surgeon who is kidnapped by a Russian mafia family while transporting a heart meant for a dying teenager awaiting a transplant. Budgeted at $10 million, “Visceral” is expected to start shooting next fall.

Aside from drama and films, Phares et Balises is also producing “Slavery Routes” (pictured), a four-part documentary series which traces the history of slave trade from the 7th century to the present day. Commissioned by Arte and French pubcaster France O to commemorate the abolition of slavery in France and Brazil, “Slavery Routes” has been shooting in eight cities around the world, including in West Africa, Brazil, Europe, the Caribbean and the U.S.

The  series, produced by Fanny Glissant at Phares et Balises, focuses on the economics and financial aspects of the slavery trade, and features testimonies from the descendants of slaves, interviews with historians and findings by archaeologists. It will also use animated scenes created by Mikros Image (“Asterix: The Mansions of the Gods”), which will illustrate testimonies collected from travel journals, newspapers, letters and chronicles.

“We have been working on this ambitious documentary series for three years, and our goal is to give audiences a global, thorough perspective on the business of slavery – one which doesn’t involve the usual footage of people on a boat,” Glissant said.

So far, 25 broadcasters and pay-TV channels have already come on board “Slavery Routes,” said Glissant, who will soon be traveling to the U.S. to discuss the project with potential partners there.

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