Botswana to invest in, host Weinstein pic

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The Republic of Botswana is joining forces with the Weinstein Co. on "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," which is set to begin filming under Anthony Minghella's direction on Monday.

Designed as a television event movie that could spin off into a TV series, "Agency" is the first major production to shoot in its entirety in Botswana. The African country has invested $5 million in the film, according to sources familiar with the project, which is based on Alexander McCall Smith's best-selling book series.

"The government of Botswana and indeed the people of Botswana are delighted to have this opportunity, which will certainly enhance our reputation and hard work to the international community," said Onkokame Kitso Mokaila, the minister of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism. "My government is very proud to be in partnership with this team, and (we are) certain the partnership will continue for many years to come as it could help kick-start a film industry in our country."

Minghella, who co-wrote the screenplay with Richard Curtis for the adaptation, said, "It was crucial for all of the production team that we film in Botswana; in many ways the novels are a celebration of a place. Our partnership with the Republic means we can create a unique world featuring Botswana's extraordinary landscapes. But beyond the beauty of the country is the opportunity — in this film and in the television series that will follow — to tell stories from Africa about what's good about Africa."

Singer-songwriter Jill Scott is set to star as Precious Ramotswe, the series' heroine and proprietor of the only female-owned detective agency in Botswana. Anika Noni Rose ("Dreamgirls") will play Precious' quirky secretary Mma Makutsi, and Lucian Msamati will play Precious' suitor JLB Matekoni (HR 6/25).

The cast also includes David Oyelowo ("The Last King of Scotland"), Idris Elba ("28 Weeks Later"), Colin Salmon ("Die Another Day") and Tony Award winners Winston Ntshona and John Kani.

"Agency" is being produced by Sydney Pollack and Timothy Bricknell for Mirage Prods., in which Pollack and Minghella are partnered, and by Amy Moore.

Colin Vaines, executive vp European production and development, will oversee the project on behalf of the Weinstein Co. Film Afrika is supporting the production in Southern Africa and will provide location services.
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