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2 YEARS

Producer Launches Legal War Over New Eco-Terrorist Film Starring Jesse Eisenberg

Edward R. Pressman throws a monkey wrench into efforts to sell and produce the movie, "Night Moves."

Jesse Eisenberg
John Sciulli/Getty Images

This year's Toronto Film Festival has generated its first lawsuit.

No, not from any of the films officially on the slate, but rather from Night Moves, which was being shopped to foreign buyers at the festival. Shooting won't being until next month and already the film is steeped in litigation.

Night Moves is set to be directed by Kelly Reichardt and to star Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard.

But in a lawsuit filed Thursday in California federal court, Edward R. Pressman Film demands a halt to work on the film, including production, sales and promotion. The plaintiffs claim that the unproduced work is a blatant rip-off of the popular Edward Abbey novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, which is about to be turned into an authorized film from the Catfish team of Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman.

Edward R. Pressman Film, producers of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and American Psycho, purchased the exclusive film rights to Abbey's 1975 book and say that another film on the market is derived from that same work.

The makers of Night Moves haven't publicly acknowledged that their film is based on The Monkey Wrench Gang -- if they had, it would surely be quoted in the complaint -- but the plaintiffs believe there can be no mistake about two stories that both tell the tale of environmental terrorists.

According to the lawsuit:

"By way of example only, both works feature the targeting of a dam for destruction by means of ammonium fertilizer-laden boats. In the Novel, the principal bomb-maker is a beer-guzzling veteran who served overseas as a Green Beret, where he acquired his knowledge of explosives. The bomb-maker in 'Night Moves' is a beer-guzzling veteran who served overseas as a U.S. Marine, where he acquired his knowledge of explosives. Both the Novel and 'Night Moves' also feature a 20-something woman who starts out as a companion of another member of the group but develops a sexual relationship with the bomb-making veteran, despite his initial objections to her participation in the group's illegal activities."

The film hasn't even been shot yet, a lawyer for the plaintiff acknowledges, and already there's purportedly a lot of Internet chatter about it being stolen.

"The similarities between 'Night Moves' and the Novel are so obvious that Internet bloggers have commented about the Film's misappropriation of the Novel's plot," says the lawsuit, adding that proving access is no problem because the novel was a huge success that got distributed everywhere.

Reichardt, the director/writer of Night Moves, couldn't be reached for comment.

She's one of the defendants, along with Film Science, executive producers Todd Haynes, Alejandro De Leon and Larry Fessenden and (rather extraordinarily) sales agents at UTA and The Match Factor GmbH.

Those who are shopping this film are being targeted because the plaintiffs, represented by Michael Niborski and James Janowitz at Pryor Cashman, aim to shut it down completely, demanding that preliminary and permanent injunctive relief be awarded so that no film based on the "Night Moves" screenplay be produced, sold or distributed.

Copyright infringement lawsuits are typically tough for plaintiffs as judges usually impose a high standard for proving substantially similarly expression. But a lawsuit lodged this early in a film project's cycle poses challenges for the filmmakers as it likely indicates the plaintiffs aren't so much interested in winning huge monetary damages -- the film hasn't sold any tickets yet -- as causing disruption.

We'll follow this story further and update with reaction from the defendants when we get it.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner