Johnny Depp has signed on to play famous war photographer W Eugene Smith in a new biopic in development entitled Minamata.
Variety reports that production will begin this coming January in Japan before moving to Serbia, with HanWay Films handling international distribution and sales at the American Film Market, which starts October 31 in Santa Monica, California.
Andrew Levitas is attached to direct from a script by David K. Kessler, who is adapting the book Minamata: The Story of the Poisoning of a City, and of the People Who Chose to Carry the Burden of Courage by W Eugene Smith and his wife Aileen Mioko Smith.
Depp’s new role: Johnny Depp has come aboard to play war photographer W. Eugene Smith in the new biopic Minamata; seen in early October in Switzerland
Smith himself: This biopic begins in the 1950s, long past his ‘glory days,’ with Smith’s (pictured above in an undated photo) Life Magazine editor Ralph Graves convincing him to investigate the widespread mercury poisoning in the coastal town of Minamata, Japan
Smith came into prominence as a war photographer during World War II, credited with being a pioneer in developing the ‘editorial photo essay.’
This biopic begins in the 1950s, long past his ‘glory days,’ with Smith’s Life Magazine editor Ralph Graves convincing him to investigate the widespread mercury poisoning in the coastal town of Minamata, Japan.
Smith and his wife lived in Minamata for two years, revealing that a Chisso factory was dumping heavy metals into water sources in and around Minamata.
In January 1972, Smith was violently attacked by members of the Chisso company to stop him from further publicizing the damage they were causing.
Smith survived the attack, but he was left with just partial vision in one eye, leaving his wife to complete his work.
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A 1972 photo was published months after the attack, which drew worldwide attention to Minamata. The Minamata photo essay was published in 1975.
Depp developed the project through his Infinitum Nihil company, with Sam Sarkar, Bill Johnson and director Levitas serving as producers, with Jason Forman and Stephen Deuters on board as executive producers.
Depp recently announced plans with producer Andrea Iervolino to develop and produce films and other forms of digital content.
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The first project through this pact will be Waiting for the Barbarians, which Depp is starring in alongside Mark Rylance and Robert Pattinson, with filming beginning in Morocco later this month.
‘Working with Johnny to give voice to those who have been silently suffering is a responsibility we do not take lightly,’ Levitas said.
‘Much like Eugene Smith in 1971, we could not feel more privileged or humbled to be tasked with the mission of bringing this incredible story to the world,’ the producer continued.
‘Eugene Smith’s personal redemptive story arc is really human and touching as he opens up and connects to the people in front of his camera, said HanWay Films’ Gabrielle Stewart. ‘His story is extremely relevant as it explores how a powerful image can spur the world into action.’