Pulitzer win­ner sells film rights about his life in U.S. to CNN

The Washington Times Daily - - Tteelleevviissiion - BY BRETT ZONGKER

NEW YORK (AP) | A for­mer White House aide to Bill Clin­ton has spent the past few years writ­ing a tril­ogy about the life of another pres­i­dent — Abraham Lin­coln.

Sid­ney Blu­men­thal has a deal with Si­mon & Schus­ter, the publisher an­nounced Tues­day. The three-vol­ume bi­og­ra­phy has the work­ing ti­tle “Abraham Lin­coln: A Po­lit­i­cal Life.” The first book, “A Self-Made Man,” is sched­uled to come out in 2015. Mr. Blu­men­thal will be edited by Alice May­hew, whose other projects have in­cluded Doris Kearns Good­win’s mil­lion-sell­ing Lin­coln book “Team of Ri­vals.”

“I was priv­i­leged to work in the White House,” Mr. Blu­men­thal said in a state­ment re­leased by Si­mon & Schus­ter. “I have ad­mired and stud­ied Pres­i­dent Lin­coln for many years. My per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with the pol­i­tics of the pres­i­dency in­side the White House gave me a fresh ap­pre­ci­a­tion and a new view of Lin­coln’s im­mense po­lit­i­cal skills and a new way of look­ing at how he be­came Amer­ica’s great­est po­lit­i­cal leader.”

Dur­ing a re­cent tele­phone in­ter­view, Mr. Blu­men­thal said he had al­ready com­pleted all three vol­umes, each more than 500 pages, and had waited un­til he fin­ished be­fore seek­ing a publisher. Ne­go­ti­a­tions were han­dled by another man used to work­ing with pres­i­dents, Wash­ing­ton at­tor­ney Robert Bar­nett, whose other clients in­clude Mr. Clin­ton and Pres­i­dent Obama.

Al­though Mr. Blu­men­thal wrote a cover story on Lin­coln for Newsweek last year, he said he had kept his bi­og­ra­phy a se­cret from every­body ex­cept his “wife and dog.”

A for­mer Wash­ing­ton Post jour­nal­ist who later re­vealed he has been liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally since childhood has made a doc­u­men­tary about his ex­pe­ri­ence and an­nounced Tues­day that he is sell­ing broad­cast rights for the project to CNN Films.

Jose An­to­nio Var­gas said the CNN unit is ac­quir­ing his film, “Doc­u­mented,” to be broad­cast na­tion­ally next spring. Mr. Var­gas wrote and di­rected the film over the past two years.

In 2011, Mr. Var­gas re­vealed in a New York Times es­say that he has been liv­ing in the U.S. il­le­gally since he was brought from the Philip­pines as a child to live with his grand­par­ents. He grew up in Cal­i­for­nia, where teach­ers and school ad­min­is­tra­tors helped him gain col­lege ad­mis­sion, a driver’s li­cense and work. He later landed a job at the Wash­ing­ton Post, where he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize for cov­er­age of the Vir­ginia Tech shoot­ings.

Just be­fore he re­vealed his im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus, Mr. Var­gas be­gan film­ing. He said he wanted to cap­ture ev­ery­thing he was about to go through. He also set out to tell sto­ries of those brought to the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren who would ben­e­fit from a path to per­ma­nent res­i­dency un­der the stalled U.S. Dream Act.

“It is im­per­a­tive that we re­mind peo­ple what is ac­tu­ally at stake and that we hu­man­ize as much as pos­si­ble a highly po­lit­i­cal, highly par­ti­san is­sue,” Mr. Var­gas said. “A film to me has the po­ten­tial to not only change pol­icy but to change peo­ple’s minds and hearts.”

Mr. Var­gas leads an ad­vo­cacy group called De­fine Amer­i­can that is plan­ning an im­mi­gra­tion re­form cam­paign around the time the film is re­leased.

Producers are also plan­ning to re­lease the doc­u­men­tary in the­aters. Mr. Var­gas wants to show it in Texas and other places grap­pling with a bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem. This week, the film de­buts at the In­ter­na­tional Doc­u­men­tary Film Fes­ti­val in Am­s­ter­dam, though Mr. Var­gas can’t at­tend be­cause he can’t leave the coun­try.

Sean Parker, the founder of Nap­ster and first pres­i­dent of Face­book, is the film project’s lead fun­der and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

Amy Entelis, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent at CNN who over­sees the film unit, said Mr. Var­gas takes the im­mi­gra­tion story out of the con­text of a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle and in­stead “makes that story very point­edly hu­man.” CNN won’t be ad­vo­cat­ing one side or the other in the im­mi­gra­tion de­bate, she said.

In the film, Mr. Var­gas re­traces his mi­gra­tion from age 12, when his mother put him on a plane to Cal­i­for­nia. He learned he didn’t have im­mi­gra­tion pa­pers when he was 16. For the film, Mr. Var­gas sent a cam­era back to the Philip­pines to in­ter­view his mother, whom he hasn’t seen in 20 years.

In another scene, Mr. Var­gas calls im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials to ask why he hasn’t been de­ported. He is told they can­not com­ment.

Dur­ing the 2012 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Mr. Var­gas went to a cam­paign event in Iowa for Mitt Rom­ney, a scene in­cluded in the film. He held a sign that read: “I am an Amer­i­can w/o pa­pers.” Oth­ers at­tend­ing the event didn’t un­der­stand why Mr. Var­gas could not gain le­gal sta­tus with all his ac­com­plish­ments.

“Im­mi­gra­tion is the most con­tro­ver­sial yet least un­der­stood is­sue in Amer­ica,” he said. “This film, I think, em­braces the com­plex­ity of the is­sue.”

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