Wortmann confirmed in 'Pope' director chair


BERLIN -- Constantin Film confirmed Wednesday that director Sonke Wortmann is taking the helm of "Pope Joan," replacing Volker Schlondorff, who was fired after criticizing the concept of filming with an eye toward a theatrical release and a TV miniseries version.

Wortmann ("Germany: A Summer's Fairytale") reportedly campaigned for the job, beating several high-profile German directors including Uli Edel ("Last Exit to Brooklyn") and Mennan Yapo ("Premonition").

The project has been plagued with a number of problems including extensive rewrites; a lawsuit against actor John Goodman, who pulled out of the project; and a lack of support from film-funding institutions. The film has been presold, however, to several European territories.

"Pope Joan" centers on a female pope who passes herself off as a man. The dramatic climax sees her giving birth in public.

Actresses from Nicole Kidman to Natalie Portman reportedly were wooed for the role -- but apparently none of them took the bait. German star Franka Potente still is expected to play the lead.

Schlondorff's firing created a controversy in Germany, where a new, Canadian-style, film subsidy has been passed for theatrical features, but which explicitly excludes TV series or telefilms.

"We're very happy that we managed to get Sonke Wortmann, a European director of the highest caliber for this project," Constantin head of production Martin Moszkowicz said. "We now look at a rapid and energetic development of the project."

Controversy still is bound to pursue the project -- Schlondorff's firing and the issues surrounding it were heavily debated this week at a special director's session of the German Film Academy.