A documentary about legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday, filled with never-before-heard interviews with her contemporaries, is in the works.
Billie, a film to be directed by James Erskine, has received backing from Concord, the successor to the Billie Holiday estate. The New Black Films and REP Documentary production is also being made in association with Belga Films, the BBC and Multiprises.
The biopic will follow Holiday’s life through the eyes of Linda Lipnack Kuehl, who as a fan and literary journalist in 1970 began a biography of Holiday.
Kuehl eventually tape-recorded over 200 hours of interviews with Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Count Basie and Holiday’s step-parents, lovers, school friends, jail-mates, lawyers and even the FBI agents who arrested her.
Kuehl died in 1979 with her book unfinished, but her tapes will be heard for the first time in Erskine’s Billie, which has archive artist Marina Amaral on board to help shape the film. Holiday’s life story was also told in 1972’s Lady Sings The Blues, starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams.
A dramatic feature about Holiday, possibly to be directed by Lee Daniels from a script by Suzan Lori-Parks and for producers Joe Roth and Jeff Kirshenbaum, is also in development.
The Billie documentary will be produced by New Black Films’ Victoria Gregory and Barry Clark-Ewers, and REP Documentary’s Laure Vaysse. Concord’s Scott Pascucci and Sophia Dilley will executive produce along with Will Clarke, Andy Mayson and Mike Runagall at Altitude Film Sales, which is handling international sales.
According to reports in Billboard, Altitude is also shopping the North American rights for Billie with Endeavor Content. Sophia Dilley, Vice President of film and TV development and production for Concord, welcomed the documentary collaboration.
“We are thrilled to be working with the creative team of James Erskine and New Black Films who have taken great care to produce a documentary that honors the life and work of Billie Holiday in an exciting, genre-defying way,” she said in a statement.
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