Wortmann is chosen one to helm 'Pope'


Constantin Film said Wednesday that director Sonke Wortmann is taking the helm of "Pope Joan," replacing Volker Schlondorff, who was fired after criticizing the concept of filming a theatrical release at the same time as a TV miniseries version.

Wortmann, who directed the World Cup soccer documentary "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 several 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. German star Franka Potente is expected to play the lead.

Schlondorff's firing created controversy in Germany, where a new, Canadian-style film subsidy has been approved 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 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.