Film Reporter @Variety_DMcNary
Lee Daniels will direct the documentary feature film “The Apollo Theater Film Project,” an authorized history of New York’s famed venue.
“I am honored to be entrusted with the story of this incredible American iconic institution and work with this team,” Daniels said. “I used to go to the Apollo Theater as a kid and never in a million years would I have imagined I would be back to be doing this – it is very special for me.”
The Apollo began operating in 1934 during the Harlem Renaissance and became the most prized venue on the “Chitlin’ Circuit” during the time of racial segregation in the United States. The Apollo was a key launch venue for Ella Fitzgerald, Jimi Hendrix and the Jackson Five. Performers have included Aretha Franklin, Nat King Cole, Gladys Knight, Sammy Davis Jr. and Billie Holiday.
White Horse Pictures’ Nigel Sinclair and Jeanne Elfant Festa are producing the project. Daniels and Jonelle Procope, the president and CEO of the Apollo Theater, are asking members of the public, audience-goers and fans for film footage, home movies, photographs or other memorabilia.
“We are asking members of the community who have been to the Apollo, who may have parents or grandparents or other family members or friends who have done so, to help us find any material — audience footage, photographs or other memories that we can use in our documentary film,” Daniels and Procope said.
The project has established a website (www.apollotheaterdocumentary. com) for anyone who wants to submit. “We will, of course, respect everybody’s ownership of their property,” Daniels and Procope said.
Impact Partners, Studiocanal and Universal Music Group are financing the project along with the Chicago Media Project. Studiocanal is handling international distribution.
Executive producers are Impact’s Dan Cogan and Geralyn Dreyfous; Studiocanal Chairman and CEO Didier Lupfer and its acquisitions exec Ron Halpern; White Horse Pictures’ Head of Production Nicholas Ferrall; Matt Jackson; CMP co-founders Steve Cohen and Paula Froehle; Ken Pelletier, Dave Knott and Jonelle Procope.
The project will be presented by the Apollo Theater and Bert Marcus Productions. Universal Music Group will curate the music for the documentary.
The project is being co-written by Cassidy Hartmann of White Horse Pictures, Mark Monroe and Shola Lynch. Karen Sim will edit the documentary.
The Apollo currently hosts more than 100 performances on its stages annually and recent performers have included Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Smokey Robinson, Metallica and Sam Smith. Amateur Night at the Apollo has been running virtually every Wednesday since it premiered in 1934.
“We are all honored to be entrusted with this triumphant American story, and so fortunate that Lee Daniels has committed to lead the team,” Sinclair said. “The Apollo has exerted such unprecedented influence and power on American culture, from its beginnings in 1934 to its towering presence in the 21st century. It is a story that will amaze.”
Studiocanal will distribute the film in its key direct territories, France, Germany, United Kingdom and Australia and license the picture in the remaining international territories. Studiocanal, Impact Partners and White Horse Pictures jointly represent the U.S. rights.
Daniels directed “Lee Daniels’ the Butler”and “Precious” and is the exec producer and director of Fox’s “Empire.”
White Horse Pictures’ untitled Beatles documentary, directed by Ron Howard, is in post-production and was produced with the cooperation of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison. Sinclair, Scott Pascucci and Brian Grazer of Imagine Entertainment are producing the film for Apple with Howard.
White Horse is also producing “Emperor” with Lionsgate as a coming-of-age story at the height of the Roman Empire.