There's a great quote that's been attributed to a dozen different comics that goes like this: "Comedy is tragedy plus time." That's true. If you tweak it slightly, you also get another truth: tragedy plus time can lead to some amazing cinema.
In the upcoming Captain Phillips, director Paul Greengrass and Tom Hanks take the harrowing story of what happened to Richard Phillips when he was abducted by Somali pirates and transform it into a thriller. In The Fifth Estate, director Bill Condon and Benedict Cumberbatch tackle the still-controversial story of WikiLeaks. Soon, we'll be getting a movie about the Chilean miners who survived that disastrous cave-in. The modern world is ripe with incredible true stories that are just begging to get made into movies. Sure, some things are just too tragic or uncomfortable to tackle immediately, but as Greengrass' own United 93 and Bloody Sunday prove, the best way to process reality is to look at it through an artistic lens.
The events on this list are all real, they all happened within the past decade and they would all make for compelling movies. The wounds on some of them are still fresh and we mean no disrespect to anyone involved. We just strongly believe that, one day, these are stories that deserve to be immortalized on movie screens.
The Arab Spring
The Event: You'd have to live in a cave to know nothing about the Arab Spring. In 2010, both violent and nonviolent revolutions broke out across the Middle East, with the citizens of numerous nations rising up and shaking off some of the most established (and often corrupt) governments and rulers in the world. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen all saw complete government overthrows, while others countries saw massive changes. Some conflicts are still ongoing. The stories of rebels organizing on social media and working to protect one another as government forces fought back are as inspiring as anything you'll ever see. However, the stories of corruption, rioting and near anarchy that have followed many of the revolutions have been heartbreaking.
The Movie Pitch: In David Lean's classic Lawrence of Arabia, T.E. Lawrence spends the first half of the film winning a war and the second half realizing that with victory comes countless new and possibly unsolvable problems. It's depressing to see the Arab Spring have similar results in the real world. A film version of these events would probably have to narrow its focus to a single nation (or even city) and Egypt is probably the most interesting from a Hollywood perspective. However, the subject matter will require a director with an eye for emotional truth and historic honesty (paging Mr. Greengrass) -- this is a tricky story to tell, especially if you want to be fair to just how complex the entire situation is.
Kim Jong-un Takes Power
The Event: In 2011, longtime North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il died and his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, rose to power. Although much of his life has been cloaked in secrecy, it is widely believed that the young dictator was raised in boarding schools across Europe, where he performed poorly at academics but became obsessed with American basketball. Suddenly in charge of an entire nation, he continued his father's legacy by generally being an awful leader and a detestable human being. Any hopes that basic human life would improve in North Korea under his watch were quickly shattered.
The Movie Pitch: There is no denying the tragic state of North Korea and you can't ignore the countless injustices its tyrannical government have put its people through. However, you also can't deny the fact that there's inherent comedy in a European-educated, culturally isolated young guy suddenly being given the reins of his father's evil dictatorship and being tasked with keeping the trains running on time. That's a premise for a pitch-dark comedy if there ever was one. We know very little about Kim Jong-un, but we do know that he wants to bring basketball to his nation before he wants to fix myriad human rights violations and dismantle heavily criticized prison camps. No wonder he was targeted for assassination in 2012. You've got to laugh through the tears.
The Italian Town That Kept Catching on Fire
The Event: Staring in 2004, bad stuff started happening in the small Sicilian village of Canneto. First, there were the small fires that kept breaking out everywhere. Unplugged appliances caught fire. Parked cars burst into flames. Eggplant crops burnt up. Street lights burnt out. A vanity mirror inexplicably caught fire three times in 35 hours. A lengthy investigation from many parties turned up nothing and the mystery deepened. Leaks appeared in pipes. A helicopter collided with an "invisible object." Sensors set up by scientists go off randomly, as if they were hit by electromagnetic fields. The mystery remains unsolved and the theories range from UFOs to government experiments to an individual with psychokinesis to the interference of Satan himself.
The Movie Pitch: Although the mystery of Canneto remains unsolved, a movie directly following the investigation could prove thrilling. A film version of these events could delve into multiple genres, taking time to explore both the realistic and the supernatural theories. Think of it as a two-hour episode of The X-Files taking place over a number of years and set in a truly unique location. Like Zodiac, there won't be a satisfying ending to the mystery, but also like Zodiac, it could be truly fascinating and thrilling.
The Daniel Chong Incident
The Event: On April 20, 2012, Daniel Chong was arrested when the DEA raided the apartment where he was attending a "4/20" celebration. Taken to a holding cell in the San Diego DEA headquarters, Chong was told that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and would soon be released. But he wasn't. In a error that tramples on the border of ludicrous and jumps into unbelievable, everyone simply forgot Chong was there, leaving the handcuffed 23-year-old college student alone in the windowless 5' x 10' room for five days. With no food, no water, no toilet and his hands bound, Chong failed to get anyone's attention and slowly starved and drank his own urine, eventually breaking his glasses and attempting to cut his wrists with the shards. When we was eventually found, he was hallucinating, babbling and on the verge of death. Two months ago, he settled with the United States government for $4.1 million.
The Movie Pitch: What the hell happened here? The case of Daniel Chong is one of the craziest examples of someone f**king up in a long, long time; a case of gross incompetence on the part of an organization that really should know better. It's also begging to be made into a movie, particularly one directed by the Coen brothers. A film set entirely in Chong's cell would be terrifying slog, but there's a dark and scathing satire of government bureaucracy just waiting to get made here, a movie about the bumbling morons outside of the holding cell who let this happen in the first place. You don't want to laugh at Mr. Chong's ordeal, but you do want to laugh at the buffoons who let this happen.
The Fukushima 50
The Event: In 2001, an earthquake and the resulting tsunamis did catastrophic damage to the nation of Japan, killing thousands of people, wiping entire cities off the map and doing incalculable damage to the country's economy. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant sustained heavy damage, resulting in an explosion and a fire. There were 750 employees that were immediately evacuated, but 50 men and women stayed behind to contain the damage to prevent a larger catastrophe, knowing that doing so would probably kill them or drastically reduce their lives. Dubbed "the Fukushima 50" by the media, they were joined by hundreds of additional volunteers and rescue workers, but the title stayed the same. If this tragic tale of heroism hasn't already grabbed your soul and squeezed, know that 250 older retirees showed up to assist, knowing that they had less to loose from radiation poisoning than the younger workers.
The Movie Pitch: Did you just read the paragraph above? If you can think about this and not get a lump in your throat, you're not human. The fact that it wasn't concocted purely by Hollywood is shocking.
The Cannes Diamond Heist
The Event: It's all so gloriously cinematic. During the Cannes Film Festival, a team of thieves broke into a hotel room and made off with a safe containing $1 million in jewelry. The jewels were the property of the Swiss jewelry maker Chopard and the representative in charge of them was at a festival party at the time of the theft. Of course, it gets better. The jewelry was on hand so it could be loaned out to stars on the red carpets and the theft occurred shortly after the premiere of Sofia Coppola's The Bling Ring, which deals with young fans breaking into the homes of movie stars. You can't make this up.
The Movie Pitch: Gorgeous French location? A high-stakes heist? Close proximity to the world's most famous film festival? This is a movie that writes itself. Think Ocean's 11 with less slick thieves. Heck, since the crooks were never caught and we know nothing about them, why not make them film buffs who were already attending the festival and got caught up in a criminal conspiracy? The idea of a jewel heist at a film festival (in France, no less) inspires so many ideas and images that the sky is truly the limit here.
The Trial of "Pussy Riot"
The Event: There are few stories that will get an artist's blood boiling quite like the story of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Founded in 2011, the 11-member, all-female group made a name for themselves by performing in unexpected, public venues. With songs that promoted feminism and LGBT rights and others that criticized Russian President Vladamir Putin, the group came under fire, culminating in the March 2012 arrests of three members. While other members of the band fled the country, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were tried and convicted of "hooliganism" and sentenced to two years of prison. They're both currently serving their sentences in Russian labor camps, where Tolokonnikova recently endured a hunger strike to protest the conditions of her imprisonment.
The Movie Pitch: The inevitable Pussy Riot movie will have to wait a few years since it doesn't have an ending yet. However, what we have here is a story that demands to be told, a story that tells you everything you need to know about a certain nation and certain government at a certain time. The trial of Pussy Riot is the complete thematic package: a radical punk band speaks its mind and is forced to literally face down the man and the government that they've directly criticized. Imagine a movie that jumps between their harsh prison sentences, their days in court and their crazy days performing unexpected punk rock on the streets of Moscow. There have already been documentaries about the trio, but it's a story that demands to be told and remembered.
The Rise of Golden Dawn
The Event: When the world tumbled into a major economic recession in 2008, no nation was hit harder than Greece. It's economy collapsed, losing 25% of its gross domestic product and causing unemployment to skyrocket to 27%. With the nation's morale at an all-time low, many embraced a new and dangerous philosophy by joining the political group known as Golden Dawn. With its racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic messages, Golden Dawn already resembled the German Nazi party before its leadership expressed admiration for fascists of the past and encouraged its members to attack minorities and immigrants in the streets. The head of the party is currently on trial, but his fervent followers remain vigilant and beholden to their evil cause, with one deputy saying "You will only stop us with bullets.'
The Movie Pitch: To research Golden Dawn is to give yourself nightmares. The story of desperate people turning to an evil cause in order to feel empowered is as old as time, but it's still shocking to read about the rise of this kind of hate-fueled violence. The story of Golden Dawn brings crime movies like Gomorra and City of God to mind. These gritty, grimy, shot-on-location films do everything in their power to not glamorize the people at the center of the story. If a movie about the rise of Greek fascism is ever made, it would have to ugly and real and down-to-earth. If art is going to be used as a weapon against evil, it has to be a mirror.
The Event: If you even remotely follow world news, you're already aware of the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya. The assault left four Americans dead, 10 wounded and a whole bunch of unanswered questions floating in the air. The fallout from the event ignited the imaginations of conspiracy theorists the world over -- what the hell actually happened at Benghazi and what is the government hiding? Of course, they were met by more rational minds, who said that the incident was a tragedy resulting from ever-present Middle East tensions and nothing more. To research the various theories on the Benghazi attack is to fall down a deep dark rabbit hole. It seems like everyone has a pet theory about this.
The Movie Pitch: On one level, a straightforward telling of the Battle of Benghazi could make for a thrilling movie. However, that would miss why so many people have become downright obsessed with this event. If a film version of Benghazi wanted to capture the zeitgeist, it'd take a JFK or Rashomon approach to telling the story. Imagine a movie that explored every possible theory through a series of unreliable narrators, with versions of the event told in ways that make logical sense and those that don't. Then travel through time and give the project to a young Oliver Stone, since he's the only person who could really pull that off.
The Wendy Davis Filibuster
The Event: On June 25, 2013, state senator Wendy Davis began a filibuster to block a controversial bill that would make it very difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion in the state of Texas. What began as local politics soon received international attention as Davis spoke for 11 hours, hoping to reach midnight and run out the clock on the bill's voting deadline. People from all over the world watched Davis via a live stream and countless supporters filled the Capitol building. No matter what your personal stance on abortion is, there is no denying the foul play that Davis encountered during her filibuster, with the opposition working overtime to shut her down. When she was cut off a few hours short of midnight, the observing crowd began to cheer and scream, disrupting the floor for long enough to keep the vote from going forward. Although the bill was ultimately passed under a new name a few weeks later, the event made Davis into a political folk hero. She's now running for governor in 2014.
The Movie Pitch: Imagine if 127 Hours were about politics. Seriously. Somehow, director Danny Boyle managed to wring all kinds of insane tension out of James Franco being pinned under a rock for two hours, so it's entirely possible that the story of Wendy Davis' filibuster would make for incredible cinema. Politics is a dirty game and this was a dirty day, so a film version would have to wallow in it. Let us see how difficult and painful it is to talk for 11 hours. Let us see the backdoor scheming of both sides. Forget about The West Wing -- make a movie about real politics.
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