Filmmakers pounce on Black Panther figures

Two English-language projects are in the works in Europe

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BERLIN -- Move over, Pink Panther. Here come the Black Panthers.

Two English-language European film projects aim to bring leading figures from the U.S. Black Power movement to the big screen soon.

Franco-Algerian producer-writer-director Rachid Bouchareb, whose film "London River" screens here in competition, is setting up a movie on the early life of Angela Davis, a leading figure of the civil rights movement and one-time FBI renegade.

Meanwhile, Berlin-based Egoli Tossell films, whose latest picture, "Hilde," screens here as a Berlinale Special Gala, is in preproduction on a feature film based on Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale.

Davis, who once studied here at Berlin's Humboldt University, became a cause celebre in the late 1960s when she was sacked from her post as philosophy professor at UCLA for being a communist. She later found herself on the FBI's "10 most wanted" list after guns used in a fatal courtroom breakout were traced to her. She was charged with kidnapping and first-degree homicide and went on the run before being arrested. She was eventually acquitted by an all-white jury after one of the most high-profile trials in postwar America.

Bouchareb, who will produce the movie through his French production company, plans to shoot in summer 2010 with a budget in the region of $20 million-$30 million, and is lining up a major French backer. The script is by novelist Yasmina Khadra, whose book "The Attack" has been optioned by Focus Features. No cast is yet attached but Bouchareb has his lead actress firmly in mind: "I want Beyonce Knowles to play Angela Davis," he said. "It's a great dramatic role for her."

Before the Davis film, Bouchareb will shoot "The Outlaws" this summer, the follow-on to his hit World War II drama "Days of Glory."

Egoli Tossell's film is titled "A Lonely Rage" and is based on Seale's autobiography tracing his life from his beginnings as a Texas farm boy to the head of one of the most radical protest groups of the 1960s. Alongside Panther co-founder Huey Newton, Seale adopted the radical stance of "freedom by any means," and faced trial on charges of inciting riots and involvement in the murder of a Panther suspected of informing. The charges were eventually dropped. He is now better known for his best-selling barbecue cookbooks.

Paul Herzberg is writing the script for "A Lonely Rage," with Seale acting as a consultant. Egoli Tossell head Jens Meurer is producing. The project is set for principle photography by the end of this year, though no cast or director are as yet signed.