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.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By JEREMY TAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

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.

Lean am­bi­tions

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.

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