Jonás Cuarón Developing Mystery Movie 

Netflix has signed filmmaker Jonás Cuarón to write and direct an untitled movie about the mythical chupacabra creature based on an original script by Marcus Rinehart, Sean Kennedy Moore and Joe Barnathan.

The story is centered on a teenager visiting his family in Mexico and deciding to save a young chupacabra hiding in his grandpa’s shed. Producers are Chris Columbus through 26th Street Pictures, Michael Barnathan and Mark Radcliffe.

Cuarón was a co-writer on “Gravity” and directed “Desierto” from his own script. He’s the son of Alfonso Cuarón. The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

Martha Plimpton Honored by New Film Festival

The RePRO virtual film festival is honoring Martha Plimpton with its inaugural ChangemakeHER Award for her work in fighting for women’s reproductive rights as the president/co-founder for A Is For, Variety has learned exclusively.

“I’m beyond excited by the work being showcased in this inaugural festival of films focusing on the vast subject of our reproductive lives,” Plimpton said. “These stories are vital to broadening our cultural vocabulary, and to be honored in this way means more than I can say.”

The festival will run for five days starting on Aug. 12. The news was announced by the festival’s founders, Lela Meadow-Conner, Mallory Martin and Debby Samples.

Paranormal Romance ‘Fallen Academy’ Movie in the Works

Rivulet Films has acquired the movie rights to Leia Stone’s “Fallen Academy,” the paranormal romance fantasy book series, Variety has learned exclusively.

The five-book series is set in a world in which angels are at war with the demons who ravaged Earth with humans assigned one of two fates — being either demon gifted or angel blessed.

Mike Witherill is producing through Rivulet. His producing credits include 2014’s “John Wick,” the musical “Stuck,” and the drama “Frontera.”


Gish Award Given to Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay has been selected to receive the 27th annual Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize in recognition of her ongoing achievements in inspiring change through the power of film and television.

She is the fourth filmmaker after Ingmar Bergman, Robert Redford and Spike Lee to receive the award, established in 1994 through the will of actor Lillian Gish. The award has a value of approximately $250,000. DuVernay’s credits include “Selma,” “13th,” “A Wrinkle in Time” and the series “Queen Sugar.”

“When I was notified about the lovely prize, I asked to read Ms. Gish’s actual words regarding this gift as drafted in her will,” DuVernay said. “She said the prize was to go to an artist who contributes to our understanding of ‘the beauty of life.’ What a notion. With her description, my own view of what I do has shifted slightly more toward embracing the beauty around me and welcoming it at every turn. This is one of those moments, and I am grateful.”

Antoine Fuqua Signs for ‘Siege of Bethlehem’

Bron Studios has hired Antoine Fuqua to direct the drama “Siege of Bethlehem,” centered on the 2002 efforts to prevent a battle between the Israeli army and armed Palestinian militants at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity.

The project is based on the book “A Season in Bethlehem: Unholy War in a Sacred Place” written by former Newsweek Jerusalem bureau chief Joshua Hammer. Fuqua, whose credits include “The Equalizer” and “Training Day,” will direct from a screenplay co-written by Avi Issacharoff and Matt Cook.

Issacharoff and Lior Raz, the creative team behind Netflix’s “Fauda” television series, Michael Kase and Bron’s Aaron L. Gilbert will produce. The news was first reported by Deadline Hollywood.

Barbara Kopple’s ‘Desert One’ Documentary Set for Release

Greenwich Entertainment will release the documentary feature “Desert One” from two-time Academy Award winner Barbara Kopple on Aug 21 in 65 cities at physical theaters and virtual cinemas.

“Desert One”recounts the April 1980 attempt to rescue 52 U.S. citizens who were taken hostage by Iranian revolutionaries in Tehran. Eight servicemen were killed in the attempt.

Kopple produced and directed the film, with David Cassidy and Eric Forman serving as producers. “Desert One” premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and was screened at AFI Fest, DOC NYC, Palm Springs International Film Festival, and Double Exposure: Investigative Film Festival where it was the opening night film.


Mickey Rourke, Michael Jai White Star in ‘Take Back

Ton of Hats and 101 Films International have completed principal photography on director Christian Sesma’s “Take Back,” starring Mickey Rourke, Michael Jai White, Gillian White and James Russo.

Written by Zach Zerries, the film was shot in nearly complete secrecy in the Coachella Valley in California under strict COVID-19 guidelines by eliminating non-essential production; performing frequent testing; mandatory wearing of masks; quarantine of remote crew in the same hotel and at home for locals; and having cast members laundering their own wardrobe.

Gillian White and Michael Jai White portray a couple living a seemingly perfect life when a mysterious man (Rourke) kidnaps their teenage daughter. With the help of a small-town sheriff (Russo), the couple races to save their daughter before she’s sold and vanishes into the sex trade.

Indian Film Festival Toronto Goes Digital

Hindi title “Padmavyuha,” directed by Raj Krishna, will kick off this year’s online edition of the Intl. Indian Film Festival Toronto on Aug. 9.

The film’s streaming will be accompanied by an interview with the helmer and stars Jaaved Jaaferi and Pooja Batra.

In all seven films in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada languages will stream during the eighth edition of the fest. The festival closes Aug. 15 with “Super 30.” Other titles that will stream are: “Film Batch of 2020,” “Jersey,” “Kaithi,” “Trance” and “Oh My Kadavule.”

Gravitas Buys ‘Tom of Your Life’ Comedy

Jer Sklar’s “Tom of Your Life” has been acquired by Gravitas Ventures, which will release the music-driven comedy on VOD on Sept. 1, Variety has learned exclusively.

The film, which was produced and directed by Sklar, centers on a child born at a rural hospital who inexplicably ages four years every hour, leading to a rebellious nurse smuggling him out and taking him on the road to let him experience the world on the one day he’ll have to live in it.

In addition to starring, Sklar created the original soundtrack for the film, composed and performed by his Chicago-based band The Blackstrap Molasses.


MGM Making Movie Version of Peter Dinklage’s ‘Cyrano

MGM has launched development of a movie version of the musical “Cyrano,” with “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage reprising his role as title character.

Haley Bennett is reprising the role of Roxanne opposite Dinklage. The film will be directed by Joe Wright with Brian Tyree Henry and Ben Mendelsohn also starring.

The musical is written by Erica Schmidt and adapted from Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac.” The film will be produced by Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner of Working Title, along with Guy Heeley. The news was first reported by Deadline.

Lauren Swickard Starring in ‘A California Christmas’

Actor Lauren Swickard (“Dear White People,” “Twisted Twin” and “Roped”) is making her production and screenwriting debut in ESX Entertainment’s romantic film “A California Christmas.”

The movie began its shoot on July 5. ESX’s Ali Afshar transformed his home in Petaluma, Calif., into the chief location.

Afshar and Daniel Aspromonte are producing. Swickard is starring with her husband Josh Swickard (“General Hospital”). Shaun Paul Piccinino is directing.

Sundance Documentary ‘Coded Bias’ Receiving Virtual Release

Shalini Kantayya’s documentary “Coded Bias” will receive a virtual release in November, followed by community screenings, and a series of online conversations with scientists and citizens.

The film questions the neutrality of technology, contending computers have a built-in bias that reflects the faulty assumptions of the people who program them.

“Coded Bias” had its world premiere in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The release is part of a national Science on Screen initiative, promoting scientific literacy through entertainment, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.


Focus Unveils ‘The Way I See It’ Release Plans

Focus Features has announced a September release for “The Way I See It,” Dawn Porter’s documentary about White House photographer Pete Souza.

The documentary is based on Souza’s New York Times bestsellers, “Obama: An Intimate Portrait” and “Shade: A Tale of Two Presidents.” Souza, the filmmakers and Focus Features will also launch #VoteTheWayYouSeeIt, a social impact campaign aimed at engaging and encouraging all Americans to register to vote in the November elections.

“The Way I See It is produced by Porter alongside Evan Hayes, Laura Dern and her Jaywalker Pictures partner Jayme Lemons, in association with Platform One Media. The documentary is a co-presentation from Focus Features and MSNBC Films, a division of NBC News Studios.

Siggraph Conference Programming Sessions Unveiled 

The Siggraph conference has unveiled its lineup of more than 20 behind-the-scenes looks at the makings of high-profile productions in film, television and advertising.

The first-ever online event in the conference’s 47-year history will take place on Aug. 17–28. Production sessions chair Derrick Nau, of DreamWorks Animation, said, “Our virtual lineup reflects the latest technological applications at a time when maximizing these tools is more important than ever, and I’m so excited for these creators to share their stories.”

Highlights include “The Making of ‘Mandalorian,'” “Finding the Look of ‘Souls” and “Making ‘The Irishman.’”

Skydance Animation Hires Shane Prigmore

Skydance Animation has named industry veteran Shane Prigmore to the newly created position of senior vice president of development for Animation.

He’s worked for Walt Disney Television Animation, DreamWorks Animation, Warner Bros. Animation and Laika. He will be responsible for overseeing the creative development of all feature films and television series for the studio’s ambitious production slate.

Prigmore is a two-time Annie Award winner for his work on Laika’s stop motion feature “Coraline” and DreamWorks Animation’s “The Croods.”