Another coup for Netflix tonight as the streaming service, which is expanding aggressively into original feature film programming, announced that it has signed Angelina Jolie Pitt, the A-list actress-turned-director who last helmed WWII survival tale Unbroken, to direct a Cambodian-set drama.
Jolie Pitt co-wrote the adaptation of Loung Ung’s memoir First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers with the author, and she’s attached to produce as well as direct. This has been a long-time passion project for Jolie Pitt, who read the book over a decade ago and reached out to Ung, becoming good friends with the author and eventually worked with her to write a screenplay.
Ung’s memoir centers on her early childhood in Cambodia as the Khmer Rouge consolidated power in the country. It centers on her harrowing experiences being trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans while her six siblings were sent to labor camps.
This is a priority for Jolie Pitt, who is putting final touches on this fall’s marital drama By the Sea. She plans to travel to Cambodia to shoot the film later this year, postponing filming on her long-planned project Africa, about the efforts of one Dr. Richard Leaky to combat against the illegal wildlife trade. Jolie Pitt has commented that she remains committed to Africa, which needs script work and production planning done before any shooting can take place.
She said of First They Killed My Father:
“I was deeply affected by Loung’s book. It deeped forever my understanding of how children experience war and are affected by the emotional memory of it. And it helped m draw closer still to the people of Cambodia, my son’s homeland. It is a dream to be able to adapt this book for the screen, and I’m honored to work alongside Loung and filmmaker Rithy Panh.”
Jolie Pitt’s adopted son Maddox, born in Cambodia, will be involved in the project, which will be released in Khmer and English. On why she chose Netflix as her partner on the passion project, Jolie Pitt noted:
“Films like this are hard to watch but important to see. They are also hard to get made. Netflix is making this possible, and I am looking forward to working with them and excited that the film will reach so many people.”
For his part, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said:
“We are proud to be with with Angelina Jolie in bringing this emotionally powerful and ultimately uplifting story exclusively to Netflix members around the world. Loung Ung’s incredible journey is a testament to the human spirit and its ability to transcend even the toughest circumstances.”
Ung also released a statement related to news of the project, elaborating on her long-standing friendship with Jolie Pitt:
“Angelina and I met in 2001 in Cambodia, and immediately, I trusted Angelina’s heart. Through the years, we have become close friends, and my admiration for Angelina as a woman, a mother, a filmmaker, and a humanitarian has only grown. It is with great honor that I entrust my family’s story to Angelina to adapt into a film.”
Netflix will try to screen the film at major film festivals and make an awards push for it. First They Killed My Father is planned to be released on Netflix in the fall of 2016.