KGB spy tale intriguing to Mann and Col

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Hollywood is racing to tell the story of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, who died of radiation poisoning in November in London under mysterious circumstances that many likened to an international spy movie.

Columbia Pictures said Friday that Michael Mann is attached to direct an espionage thriller about the poisoning for producers Doug Wick and Lucy Fisher of Red Wagon Prods. Warner Bros. Pictures is eyeing the same story as a potential starring vehicle for Johnny Depp.

To stake its claim in the race, Columbia has snapped up rights to "Death of a Dissident," a forthcoming book about the agent's murder by Alexander Goldfarb, a close friend of Litvinenko, and Litvinenko's widow, Marina. It also has acquired Marina Litvinenko's life rights.

For its part, Warners has grabbed film rights to the unpublished book "Sasha's Story: The Life and Death of a Russian Spy," which will be written by New York Times London bureau chief Alan Cowell and published in the U.S. by Doubleday.

The Columbia project is described by the studio as "a wide-ranging espionage thriller, (exploring) the collision between the deep-rooted Russian power structure — enforced by the KGB and its successor, the FSB — and the new wave of wild west capitalism that came on the heels of glasnost. The film will capture the ways in which Litvinenko was caught between those two colossal forces." It was announced by Columbia presidents of production Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach.

Mann also will produce though his company, Forward Pass Prods., along with Red Wagon's Wick and Fisher.

The film will be overseen at Columbia by senior vp production Sam Dickerman and Red Wagon's executive vp production Rachel Shane, who brought the project into Red Wagon.

Goldfarb, co-author of the book that will be published in May by Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, was instrumental in helping Litvinenko defect from Russia to Britain. He also is executive director of the International Foundation for Civil Liberties, a New York-based human rights group. Literary agent Ed Victor repped the book.

Warners picked up its book about the Litvinenko case on behalf of Depp's production company, Infinitum Nihil, which will develop the project. Depp will produce with Infinitum president Christi Dembrowski and Initial Entertainment Group president Graham King.
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