20 may 2023 Cannes: Ernest Cole Doc, About South African Photographer Who Captured Brutality of Apartheid, Sells to Magnolia Pictures, MK2 Films

Magnolia Pictures and MK2 Films have acquired rights to Raoul Peck’s documentary about renowned photographer Ernest Cole.

The untitled documentary chronicles the life and work of Cole, the first Black freelance photographer in South Africa, whose early work revealed to the world the shocking, brutal realities of Black life under apartheid. Magnolia will release the film in North American theaters, while MK2 will handle the rollout internationally.

“Ernest Cole’s long and, at times, painful and tedious journey in America brings me back to a period of my life when my political commitment and artistic stamina were forged,” Peck said in a statement. “I profoundly feel, cherish and treasure his human eye on the facts of life and his piercing acuity over our terrible contradictions.”

The sale marks a reunion for Magnolia and Peck after 2016’s James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”, which became a modest box office hit with $8 million globally.

“The opportunity to serve auteurs like the great Raoul Peck is why we do this work,” said Magnolia Pictures co-CEO Dori Begley. “With his incomparable vision and integrity as our guide, team Magnolia can’t wait to help share the extraordinary story of this essential artist with audiences.”

MK2 Films will launch international sales in Cannes, which runs May 16 through May 27.

“The combination of a powerful human rights story, Ernest Cole’s own struggles as an exiled artist, and the mystery around his negatives and legacy promise to deliver an incredibly moving and thrilling film from the masterful documentarian”, said Fionnuala Jamison, managing director of MK2 Films.

Cole fled South Africa in 1966 and lived in exile in the U.S., where he photographed extensively in New York City, as well as the South, and was said to be fascinated by the ways the country could be so similar and different compared to the segregated culture of his homeland. During his time in America, he published “House of Bondage”, a book of photographs denouncing the apartheid, which was banned in South Africa.

After his death in 1990, more than 60,000 of his 35mm film negatives were discovered (inexplicably) in a bank vault in Stockholm, Sweden. Peck’s film hopes to reintroduce the artist’s work to new generations and unravel the mystery of his missing negatives.

The film, produced by Peck and Tamara Rosenberg (“O.J.: Made in America”), was made in collaboration with the Ernest Cole Family Estate. Cole’s nephew Leslie Matlaisane, who manages the estate, granted Peck exclusive access to the entirety of the family’s archive, including images never previously seen by the public.

The deal was negotiated by Magnolia co-CEO Dori Begley, as well as SVP of acquisitions John Von Thaden, and by Range Media Partners on behalf of MK2 and the filmmakers.

Peck is represented by Range Media Partners and Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein Lezcano Bobb & Dang.

Read more in Variety.

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