Cannes: Thomas Piketty's Bestselling 'Capital' to Become Documentary

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Thomas Piketty

The economic book will be adapted for the big screen by New Zealand filmmakers Matthew Metcalfe and Justin Pemberton.

Thomas Piketty’s epic economic tome will be translated to the big screen, with Capital in the 21st Century set to begin filming in August.

The film version will be helmed by Emmy-nominated documentary director Justin Pemberton (The Golden Hour) and produced by Matthew Metcalfe (Beyond the Edge). The "world's most famous economist" unveiled the project in Cannes on Friday.

“The story of inequality that I tell in the book is not a dry economic story,” said Piketty. “The story I tell is of wars, revolution, power, conflict, political struggle. I try to show the struggle is not just an economic story, it’s a story about control.”

Pemberton says the script will condense the 700-page tome – which is a 26-hour audiobook – into a more classic three act structure, that takes us through the history of capitalism through  possible futures.

“It’s an epic story that spans 400 years, and capitalism is a mesmerizing protagonist. It’s both the beauty and the beast,” said Pemberton. While the director cites Inconvenient Truth and Fog of War as inspirations, the movie “has to be more visual.”

“It’s going to be a ride. It’s not just dry economists talking. It's war, it’s revolution, it’s Gordon Gekko, it’s Montgomery Burns from The Simpsons,” said Metcalfe. “Gordon Gekko was meant to be a villain and became a hero instead. American Psycho did the same thing, and there’s something tragically ironic about that.”

The budget will be in the millions at the “upper end of feature documentaries,” said Metcalfe. The France – New Zealand production will be a combination of public and private funds. The team plans to start shooting in August, aiming for a mid-2017 release.

The crew will shoot worldwide to tell various aspects of the story, Metcalfe said.

Out of the nearly 3 million copies sold, three-quarters were in languages other than English, including Chinese, Japanese and Portugese, noted Piketty, indicating interest in these issues outside of North America and Europe.

“Movies, and movies that are shown in Cannes like Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, can be a very powerful way to talk about inequality and to raise public awareness and to contribute to the political mobilization and political action,” Piketty told The Hollywood Reporter.  

“You have people all over the world that are tired of hearing that these issues are technical and should be left to experts, it’s a joke and people know that,” he said. “I hope the movie will be able to put that into context and reach even more people.”

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