Skogland bound for Belfast

The director of the forthcoming The Stone Angel is in final talks to sign Ben Kingsley in the lead of her IRA drama Fifty Dead Men Walking

Kari Skogland is taking the leap from classic Canadian drama to international political thriller. The director — whose latest feature is the adaptation of Margaret Laurence’s novel The Stone Angel — will shoot her next movie, Fifty Dead Men Walking, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, this fall.

‘It couldn’t be more opposite to The Stone Angel,’ says Skogland, who divides her time between L.A. and Toronto and runs her own production company, Skogland Films.

For Fifty, Skogland is in final negotiations to cast Oscar winner Ben Kingsley (Lucky Number Slevin) as real-life double agent Martin McGartland, who worked for both the IRA and the British government in the 1980s, and who hid his secret life from his family. Ben Foster (X-Men: The Last Stand) is also attached.

Skogland penned the script, which is based on the U.K. best-selling book written by McGartland, who has survived being shot at point-blank range six times and who once jumped out of a three-story building to evade execution by the IRA. He is in hiding today.

Skogland is coproducing the $13-million film with Arthur Lappin of Dublin- and London-based Hell’s Kitchen (In America, My Left Foot) and Future Films, also of London. HandMade Films International has also invested in the film and is handling international sales. Other financiers include U.K. private equity funds, tax credits and Belfast’s film subsidy program.

‘Fortunately, because of the cast we are attracting, we have lots of options on the financing front,’ says Skogland. ‘I have meetings next week with other financiers who want to come on board.’

There are also offers on the table for a U.K. and Canadian distributor, but the producers are holding off until it is determined whether the film will be an official treaty coproduction with the U.K.

Skogland feels up to the challenge of directing a gritty, action-packed political thriller, based on her past work, which includes dramatic thriller Liberty Stands Still, the comedy The Size of Watermelons and crime drama Men with Guns, plus numerous commercials and music videos.

‘I have done a fair bit of work not traditionally associated with female directors,’ she explains. ‘I have worked with race cars and horses and blown things up and done a lot of stunts in my time.’

But before heading to Belfast in October, Skogland’s focus right now is the world premiere of The Stone Angel, which was shot in Manitoba last fall with Winnipeg’s Buffalo Gal Pictures. She hopes to premiere the film, about an elderly woman looking back on her life, at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Skogland is calling the picture her ‘breakout film,’ and says her distribution partners — Odeon Films in Canada and HandMade internationally — feel the $8-million movie will not only be a critical success domestically, but has huge international potential.

It features a well-known and bankable cast — including Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn (The Wicker Man), Dylan Baker (Fido, Spider-Man 2 and 3), Ellen Page (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Kevin Zegers (Transamerica). Furthermore, Skogland says the story itself is exportable.

‘I did the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll version of The Stone Angel,’ she says. ‘I tried to stay true to the spirit of the piece, but I think I uncovered the passion that was bubbling just below the surface. I didn’t take the precious approach. The film has humor and great sex scenes. The emotions are electric and the pace is relentless.’

A test screening for general audiences in Toronto was ‘extremely positive,’ says Skogland, and a six-minute trailer screened at the AFM sparked the attention of several American distributors.

‘We are putting a toe in the water and talking to one or two companies to see if they will come to the plate with a strong enough offer now,’ she says. ‘But if not, then we will go into TIFF without a U.S. distributor, knowing that the audience screening will be strong.’