Speed boat flick races to big screen

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CANNES -- Speedboat builder and racer Don Aronow's life story so intrigued London-based Italian entrepreneur, advertising expert, and boat racing aficionado Max Alvarez that he founded a company to help make a film about it.

Max Pictures has already co-produced a documentary on Aronow's life -- "Thunder Man -- The Don Aronow Story" -- that premiered in the Marche du Film sidebar Thursday and was really made as a way to call attention to "Speed Kills," a $70 million feature film about Aronow now in pre-production.

Aronow, who died a month before his 60th birthday in 1987, was the creator of the lightning-fast cigarette-style speedboats that in the 1970s and 1980s attracted the interest of some of the world's most powerful boat lovers, including the Shah of Iran, junk bond king Charles Keating, and former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, all of who bought Aronow's boats for their own use. The boats won hundreds of races before their creator was shot to death 20 years ago.

Alvarez, who moved to London in the 1990s where he made a living developing sponsorship for racing boats and Formula One cars, said he heard about plans to make a film based on Aronow's life and knew he had to be a part of it. "This idea had my mind racing," Alvarez said in an interview. "I knew I had to figure out a way to be part of this project."

Alvarez struck a deal with veteran action film producer Silvio Sardi and founded deep-pocketed Max Pictures, which is providing the bulk of the financial backing for the projects.

The company got to work right away, opening for business last year, with one film -- "Downtown: A Street Tale" -- already in limited distribution in the U.S. The "Thunder Man" documentary was finished just in time for the Festival de Cannes, with narration from "Ocean's Thirteen" star Andy Garcia.

And now, work on the company's centerpiece project, "Speed Kills," has begun, with filming expected to start later this year and a release date in late 2008 or early 2009 penciled in. Scriptwriter Paul Castro has already signed onto the project, and a glance at the company's wish list for directors and cast looks like a virtual who's who of A-list talent.

Max Pictures has a fourth film -- an action thriller called "Johnny Too" -- also in preproduction, and Alvarez says he would like to make a name for Max Pictures in the action genre even though he knows there are major risks involved for any film industry newcomer.

"When I started making sponsorship deals for Formula 1, that was also risky and I came out OK," he said. "I guess risk is what I like."
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