Filmart: China and Canada Teaming for Indie Biopic (Exclusive)

Mao Zedong and Norman Bethune Illo - Getty - H 2018
UIG via Getty Images

An illustration of Mao Zedong meeting with Canadian doctor Norman Bethune during the Long March in Yennan, China

The $30 million movie about true-life Canadian doctor and cultural icon Norman Bethune will be co-produced by Rare Earth Media and China's Ray Production.

Rare Earth Media and Beijing-based Ray Production have partnered to make a movie about true-life Canadian doctor and Chinese cultural hero Norman Bethune, to be structured as a $30 million China-Canada co-production.

The film, to be unveiled at Filmart, will give the Bethune biopic a makeover. In Bethune, a 1977 Canadian TV movie, Donald Sutherland played the surgeon, who died from blood poisoning while treating wounded civilians and soldiers on a Chinese battlefield in 1939. The actor then took on the role of the legendary doctor again in Philip Borsos' 1990 feature Bethune: The Making of a Hero, which co-starred Helen Mirren.

Vancouver-based Rare Earth Media, which optioned the film and TV rights to the book Phoenix: The Life of Norman Bethune, will co-produce with China-based Ray Production, which is financing the indie drama. Documentary fillmmaker Jordan Paterson (From C to C: Chinese Canadian Stories of Migration) will write the script, based on the biography by Roderick and Sharon Stewart.

"This is a profoundly important story for both China and Canada. Approaching the 80th anniversary of his death, Bethune’s life should not be forgotten or dismissed,” Paterson of Rare Earth Media said Sunday in a statement.

The latest Bethune biopic emerges as Canada looks to target the Chinese moviegoing market before, as expected, it overtakes North America as the largest theatrical film market in the world sometime in the next several years. Rare Earth Media and Ray Production will be part of a Canadian film industry trade mission to China in April to promote the film, led by federal heritage minister Melanie Joly.

Ray Production produced Jia Zhang-Ke’s Still Life, the 2006 Venice Golden Lion winner, and Yang Chao's Crosscurrents, the 2016 Silver Bear winner in Berlin. Ray Production CEO Ray Wang (Yu) earlier served as the director of the Beijing International Film Festival market.