Filmmakers are currently wrestling with four different projects to document or dramatize the story of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter beheaded by Islamic extremists in Pakistan in early 2002, leaving behind a pregnant wife.
Pearl’s life and tragic death would seem a natural for the Hollywood treatment, but the delays and uncertainties of most of the projects are now raising two concerns.
When will the films be completed? And will they reflect the complex nature, Jewish heritage and true legacy of the slain journalist?
At this point, only one project is finished, a 90-minute documentary titled, “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl,” narrated by CNN correspondent Christine Amanpour and to be broadcast by HBO.
The film was directed by AlluTamal, a Pakistani, and Ramesh Sharma, an Indian, and was briefly screened — but not reviewed — at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
An HBO spokeswoman said that the 90-minute documentary is to air sometime in October, but Judea and Ruth Pearl, Daniel’s parents, said they have been given a specific date of Oct. 10, when their son would have marked his 43rd birthday.
A fair amount of publicity has surrounded the feature film, “A Mighty Heart,” in part because it is based on a book by Daniel Pearl’s widow, and because the project has been inadvertently caught up in the Brad Pitt-Jennifer Aniston-Angelina Jolie saga.
When Mariane Pearl completed her book, “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of My Husband Daniel Pearl” in late 2003, Warner Bros. reportedly paid more than $500,000 for the film rights.
The production company, Plan B, was designated to actually make the film under the direction of Plan B owners — the then-married couple — Pitt and Aniston — and film executive Brad Gray, now head of Paramount Pictures.
At that time, media reports had it that Aniston would play the part of Mariane Pearl. But, soon after, the actress and Pitt severed their marital and professional relationships.
Pitt then entered into a well-publicized relationship with Jolie, and that actress is now reportedly in line to essay the role of Pearl’s wife.
Dede Gardner, president of the reclusive Plan B, would disclose only, through a spokeswoman, that the film “is in development and we are currently working on the script.”
None of the others involved in “A Mighty Heart” have publicly commented, but screenwriter John Orloff’s script is expected to follow the book’s focus on the young couple’s romance and marriage, followed by the wife’s agonizing vigil after Daniel Pearl was kidnapped.
Looking at the same topic with a different perspective and approach is “Who Killed Daniel Pearl?” which is “inspired” by the book of the same title by Bernard-Henri Lévy, in which the French philosopher-novelist describes his yearlong investigation into the reporter’s death.
Producer Charlie Lyons has teamed up with up with executive producers Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, director Tod “Kip” Williams and screenwriter Peter Landesman, a New York Times Magazine foreign correspondent, to make the film for Beacon Pictures.
They are a bit farther along than the “Mighty Heart” project. Lyons, who is in New Zealand shooting another movie, e-mailed that he hopes to start filming the Pearl story in the fall.
According to the studio, the script will differ from the book to avoid infringement on the “Mighty Heart” movie, or, as Lyons wrote, “Some elements of the story will allow for literary inspiration.”
For one, the movie will be mainly a political thriller in which author Lévy will be transformed into an American celebrity television reporter, portrayed by actor Josh Lucas.
Daniel Pearl himself will be fictionalized to some extent, “but the symbol and inspiration of Daniel is core” to the film, Lyons wrote.
Finally, there are one or two references on Google to a film project billed as “Infinite Justice.” The title is not to be confused with a German effort, “Operation Infinite Justice,” which was the code name for the American buildup preceding the current war in Iraq, later renamed “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
According to skimpy reports, that film is to deal with “an American reporter (named Arnold Silverman), who is held hostage by Muslim fundamentalists in Karachi against the release of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.”
The Pearl parents say that they have been unable to learn anything more about the project.
Judea Pearl, Daniel’s father, is a UCLA professor and widely known authority on artificial intelligence. Ruth Pearl is an electrical engineer; they both expressed mixed sentiments about the rash of film projects.
“I don’t think they will be able to capture my feelings,” said the father, while his wife added, “They [the filmmakers] are probably doing their best, but how can they express the emotions of a mother for her son?”
Hoping for that degree of empathy may be asking for the impossible. But the Pearls, who have been consumed in finding a meaning for their son’s death, also fear that his legacy might be ignored in favor of the more dramatic details of the last weeks of his life.
For the past four years, the Pearls have poured their thoughts and energies into the Daniel Pearl Foundation, “to further the ideals that inspired Daniel’s life and work.”
The broad aim of the foundation (www.danielpearl.org) is to address the root causes of his murder by promoting “cross-cultural understanding,” particularly between the Muslim and Western worlds, through journalism, music and innovative communication.
“We would like the films, and other media coverage, to express the deeper significance of Daniel’s life and death and to concentrate on the legacy and inspiration he left behind,” Judea Pearl said.