Animated Adaptation of 'Zeitoun' Moving Forward

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Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) is going to adapt Dave Eggers’ post-Hurricane Katrina nonfiction book, “Zeitoun”. That’s not the interesting bit. Zeitoun is a wonderful book and an incredible story of tragedy, perseverance, and hope, and will likely make for a great movie. The strange part of this news is the medium Demme is going to use: the movie will be animated.

Zeitoun is the story of Abdulrahamen Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born handyman and contractor living in New Orleans. He came to the US, built himself up from nothing, and is the embodiment of the American Dream. During Katrina he remained in New Orleans to keep an eye on his home and business. In the wake of the disaster he paddled a canoe through the flooded streets of his adopted home, rescuing people, checking on his neighbors, and even feeding a couple of stranded dogs. Eventually he was arrested as a terrorist and looter, and detained in horrendous conditions while his frantic family tried to track him down.

The cover of Eggars’ (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) books features a simple, elegant drawing of Zeitoun in his canoe. I hope Demme retains this style for the animation. It would be difficult and expensive to replicate that sort of destruction on screen, but it isn’t hard to imagine the scenes rendered in this fashion. I can easily picture Zeitoun holed up in his house during the chaos of the storm, or gliding through the strangely silent streets of his waterlogged neighborhood in his aluminum canoe. They could take what is already a poignant narrative and create something breathtaking, and set the film apart from the glut of other post-Katrina movies and documentaries.

Production is moving forward, with an eye on a 2014 release. French company MK2 will foot the $15 million bill.

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