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‘By the People’ Director Amy Rice on ‘The Independent,’ Starring Kumail Nanjiani (EXCLUSIVE)

Amy Rice, Kumail Nanjiani
Courtesy of Stewart Cook/Shutterstock/Hugh Rice

At the virtual Cannes market, the Exchange is pre-selling political thriller “The Independent,” the narrative feature debut of twice Emmy-nominated director Amy Rice, starring “The Big Sick” star Kumail Nanjiani. Variety spoke to Rice about the film.

In “The Independent,” America’s first viable independent presidential candidate is poised for victory when an idealistic journalist uncovers a conspiracy, which places the fate of the election and the country in his hands.

Rice, whose credits include HBO’s “By the People: The Election of Barack Obama,” is scheduled to shoot the movie next year. The screenplay is written by two-time Black List scribe Evan Parter, who is writing the upcoming Amazon Studios Original feature about former Nixon administration staffer John Dean, starring Chris Pine.

Rice, who describes herself as a “political junkie,” says: “It is rare these days to come across such a thought-provoking political thriller, so the second I finished the script I booked a ticket to L.A. to meet the writer, Evan.”

She adds: “This story also merges two worlds that I am very passionate about, which are journalism and politics.”

When she was working on the Barack Obama film she was embedded with his campaign team and the press corps on the election trail during his first run for President, “so I have kind of lived this script, and there is obviously an authenticity I bring to this world,” she says.

“Overall what I love about ‘The Independent’ is that it is a story about fighting to uncover the truth in a post-fact world, no matter who it benefits or hurts, which is very timely considering the moment we are living in.”

The film follows the journalist, Eli, played by Nanjiani, as he finds “his way back after a fall from grace, and over the course of the film we will see him try to prove himself again in the eyes of his peers in the journalism world, his mentor and his father,” she says.

It also features an old-school journalist, Nick, who has reached the pinnacle of his career, but is very disillusioned by what he sees, with corporations dominating the media and the rise of fake news, added to which, his marriage is falling apart. So he is ready to throw in the towel when Eli turns up, and tells him that this is not the time to quit.

Rice says: “The story is universal because it tackles the moral dilemma of: Do the ends really justify the means? And it also humanizes the process of a person finding their way back after a fall from grace, where it is not about the fall but how you get back up, and everyone can relate to that at some point in their imperfect life. I know I can.”

Rice cites as influences Aaron Sorkin’s drama series “The Newsroom,” which she worked on as a writer, Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker’s “The War Room,” and “House of Cards.”

Parter will produce the film alongside Emmy-winning producers Sam Bisbee of Park Pictures, and Theodora Dunlap, and Anonymous Content’s Ryan Cunningham.

Nanjiani is currently starring in Netflix feature “The Lovebirds” and appears in Marvel’s upcoming “The Eternals.”