Tale of fool’s gold
A uS filmmaker is scouting malaysian locations for a movie about an astounding gold find that proved to be a colossal fraud.
ALL that glittered was not gold. The mother lode proved nothing more than a load of lies, as the euphoria over the world’s supposedly largest gold find vanished when it was revealed to be one of the biggest frauds in history instead.
Together with a mysterious suicide, suspected arson, many unanswered questions and hopes that turned to dust, the Bre-X saga – which unfolded in the lush, exotic jungles of nearby Busang, Indonesia during the 1990s – makes a compelling tale.
The astonishing web of deceit, corruption and greed that took a Calgary-based junior mining company to giddy heights, only to come crashing down in a US$6bil (RM19.3bil) scandal that brought the Canadian financial market to its knees and left investors high and dry, is set to hit the silver screen in early 2015.
Aptly entitled Bre-X, it will be helmed by acclaimed producer, director and writer Scott Rosenfelt, one of Hollywood’s most successful independent filmmakers. It would also be the first major feature film chronicling the fever that gripped the world and hoodwinked thousands into chasing the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Rosenfelt, who was recently in Malaysia to scout possible locations for the film, compared it to a “classic Shakespearean drama”, and revealed how he was immediately struck by the multidimensional complexity of it all, when he first read about it.
Date with destiny
“These were just normal men, who stumbled onto something fantastic. It propelled them to great heights, only to culminate with a great fall. The fact that all this happened, yet no one was ultimately prosecuted, says a lot about our world,” he said of the project, which he envisions as a thrilling, character-driven adventure.
“The characters illuminate the story, taking us along as they chart their date with destiny against an exotic jungle backdrop. It will be visceral yet intriguing, a type of movie that audiences aren’t used to seeing,” he revealed in an interview with The Star at a hotel in Batu Feringghi, Penang.
The film will be produced and marketed by Cinema Veritas, a new production company that Rosenfelt founded. Pre-production is slated to begin in January, followed by principal photography from March to June, and post-production and completion in the latter part of 2014. A worldwide cinematic release, is expected not long after.
It should be a flick locals can eagerly anticipate, as the country is poised to play a prominent, if not immediately obvious, role. Malaysian audiences might notice familiar sights throughout the gilded adventure, estimated to run between 100 and 120 minutes.
Though a final decision is yet to be made, Rosenfelt said they might film in George Town, Penang, as well as Kuala Lumpur, which would be transformed into Jakarta and other Indonesian urban settings, with a little movie magic and CGI.
He has also earmarked an area in Kuantan, Pahang, to stand in for the Busang mining site where the large cache of gold, claimed to contain between 70,000,000 and 200,000,000 troy ounces, was supposedly discovered.
“We wanted locations that looked and felt the part, not just in structures, but the local community too. In that sense, Malaysia was perfect, though the substantial tax rebates were attractive too, not to mention the food!” quipped Rosenfelt, who said he planned to involve local talents in the production.
He was coy about the cast, as they are still in final negotiations, but teased that there would be some Hollywood A-listers playing leading characters like Bre-X founder David Walsh, geologist John Felderhof, and counterpart Michael De Guzman who sparked the gold rush by allegedly spiking core samples with gold shavings from his wedding ring.
Somewhere in my memory
Bre-X marks Rosenfelt’s return to a directorial role, following the drama Family Prayers way back in 1993, and the acclaimed documentary Standing Silent in 2011, which lifted the veil on sexual abuse and received the Sundance Film Festival’s Documentary Filmmaker Grant.
In the two intervening decades, he was involved in 32 films mostly in a production capacity. Highlights include the hit comedy Home Alone – the highestgrossing film of its genre ever with over US$1bil (RM3.22bil) in revenue – along with Mystic Pizza, a coming-of-age tale that introduced a young Julia Roberts.
“I still remember it vividly. She just turned 20, and had light blonde hair then, but had to dye it dark to fit the role. She was wonderful to work with,” Rosenfelt said of the Academy Award-winning actress, more famous for her roles in Pretty Woman, Notting Hill and Erin Brockovich.
On 20th Century Fox’s charttopper Home Alone, he said: “We never expected it to be so well received. It seemed really funny while we filmed, and though we knew we had something special, the landslide popularity it subsequently enjoyed took us much by surprise.”
The 55-year-old was also involved in Smoke Signals, a comedic drama about a Native American trying to better understand his father – another Sundance winner that garnered the Audience Award and Filmmaker’s Trophy accolades in 1998.
Rosenfelt’s career is filled with highlights, but it could have panned out differently. He was actually studying journalism at Boston University in Massachusetts, when the creative writing bug bit him. Writing screenplays for the fun of it, he soon realised it was his calling.
He transferred to New York University and then the University of Southern California, studying film. He fell in love with it, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I was more interested in creating stories than writing about
other people. With Bre-X, it feels like I’ve brought my interest full circle,” he mused.
Other projects in the pipeline include a movie about American businessman Jim Thompson, who revitalised the silk trade in Thailand, but mysteriously disappeared while in Cameron Highlands. Rosenfelt similarly hopes to film parts of the unsolved enigma here, as well as north of the border.
There is also Lost In Beijing, a family comedy featuring the adventures of an American boy and his Chinese counterpart, that is a nod to the Home Alone series.
But for now, Rosenfelt is putting his all into Bre-X, to ensure the dramatisation is a riveting one that engages audiences worldwide – including Malaysians, many of whom are unaware of the incident although it took place so close to home.
Having worked with many great directors thoughout his career, he relishes his opportunity in the chair himself, and hopes to make his own mark with a film that’s very much in the vein of those he looks up to – the legendary Martin Scorsese, John Huston and David Lean.
“Lean’s films like Lawrence Of Arabia and The Bridge On The River Kwai tell great stories with great characters. These kind of movies seldom get made anymore, and that’s what I would like to emulate with Bre-X,” he said.
If he achieves this with Bre-X, the accompanying box-office success and critical acclaim would definitely be worth its weight in gold.
Location scount: Scott rosenfelt in Kuala Kurau Kedah which, if chosen as a location, will stand in for Samarinda, the capital of Indonesia’s east Kalimantan province where the busang site is located. — Photo: cinema Veritas
macaulay culkin in homealone, which rosenfelt produced. ‘Though we knew we had something special, the landslide popularity it subsequently enjoyed took us much by surprise,’ he recalls.