Johannesburg - It seems as though the many tough weeks that Hollywood heart-throb Leonardo DiCaprio spent in South Africa, Mozambique and Sierra Leone to research and film Blood Diamond in 2006 left a lasting impression. Since then, his film company, Appian Way Productions, has been showing love to our projects.
At the Toronto International Film Festival this week, it was announced that DiCaprio was coming in as a backer of a film by prominent South African producer Steven Markovitz and Canadian director-producer Anjali Nayar.
He signed on as one of the executive producers to boost the North American impact of Silas, a powerful documentary about Silas Siakor, a Liberian environmental activist. The film has its world premiere tomorrow at the Canadian festival, where Lady Gaga’s latest documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two has already premiered.
DiCaprio is no stranger to environmental causes or to doing business with South African creatives. In 2013, he bought the rights to Cape Town literary star Lauren Beukes’ time-travelling serial killer novel The Shining Girls, which is being prepared for production.
The key to the Silas deal has apparently been attributed to Markovitz and Nayar approaching Oscar-winning Shakespeare in Love producer Edward Zwick, who also directed Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai and Legends of the Fall.
Markovitz was a producer on documentaries such as Winnie and Beats of the Antonov, and on the thriller Viva Riva!, while Nayar made a powerful debut with her documentary Gun Runners last year.
People close to the production said Zwick had been shown versions of the film and had given feedback. He apparently asked the team what more he could do to help, and they asked if there was a chance of getting DiCaprio on board as executive producer. They say Zwick emailed DiCaprio, who responded enthusiastically.
(Leonardo DiCaprio says Blood Diamond was a film with a message about the environment and how corporations have hurt Africa. Photo: Supplied)
In a joint statement to The Hollywood Reporter, Markovitz and Nayar said: “We are thrilled to be partnering with Appian Way on the film. Their documentary work aligns perfectly with the spirit of our documentary.”
Siakor, an internationally awarded activist, gained attention by exposing illegal deforestation in Liberia. But the world barely knows his story. Liberia is neighbours with Sierra Leone, where DiCaprio shot parts of Blood Diamond.
Using his Oscar-winning celebrity status and his green foundation, DiCaprio has for years campaigned about the environmental impact of global warming and has produced the documentaries Before the Flood and The Ivory Game.
This week, City Press also asked award-winning Zoo City author Beukes about DiCaprio buying the rights to The Shining Girls. DiCaprio’s Appian Way is turning it into a big-budget TV series.
“I believe they are talking to some very exciting writers and directors, who I can’t say anything about, of course,” Beukes told City Press.
“I haven’t met Leo, but I do get a Christmas card from him every year and I’ve met his people in Los Angeles. They’re so enthusiastic and passionate about the project. They really get the material.”
Meanwhile, Markovitz is also in Toronto after participating as a producer in rising local director Jenna Bass’ new school fiction film High Fantasy. It was shot on iPhones and tells the story of a group of politically woke students who wake up during a camping trip and find they have switched bodies.