x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Your story ought to be pictures

Now, surviving a real-life ordeal could get your story on the big screen.

James Franco stars in the film 127 Hours, but you don't need to have survived a harrowing accident in a Utah canyon to have your story adapted for the big screen. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures
James Franco stars in the film 127 Hours, but you don't need to have survived a harrowing accident in a Utah canyon to have your story adapted for the big screen. Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

Cheating death has always been a great way of capturing the public's imagination, but for many years surviving an ordeal would earn you a medal or a glowing newspaper write-up. Now, such an experience is likely to become the subject of an "inspirational" Hollywood movie, with an Oscar-winning actor enlisted to play you.

The latest group of survivors whose story looks set to grace the silver screen is the Chilean miners, who spent more than two months trapped 700 metres below the Atacama desert after the mine they were working in collapsed. Following the unprecedented media attention that the plight of the 33 men received, the Chilean film director Rodrigo Ortuzar (2008's All Inclusive) has announced plans to dramatise the miners' ordeal.

"My idea is to craft a story focusing on this confinement and at the same time on the rebirth the miners will go through once they come to the surface," he told AFP.

The movie, slated for a 2012 release and tentatively titled The 33, is expected to star the Spanish leading man Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) as one of the miners. Ortuzar had already begun filming among the tents of Cape Hope, the rescue operation's temporary base, even before any of the men had been lifted to safety.

"We're filming at the camp as a way of observing what goes on there so we can recreate it later," he said.

But any production that wants the miners' involvement will have to pay handsomely for it. Scott Manville, the founder of TVFilmRights.com - an online marketplace for buying and selling the rights to real-life stories, told Bloomberg the movie rights could cost between $100,000 and $500,000.

A very different ordeal has been captured by the lens of the Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle - and is proving painful viewing for audiences.

Three people fainted and one person had a seizure while watching a horrific scene in 127 Hours at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. The movie tells the true story of the climber Aron Ralston (played by James Franco) who in 2003 was forced to cut off his own arm with a penknife after becoming trapped beneath a boulder in a Utah canyon.

"I cannot remember a reaction to a film like this in a very long time, perhaps not since The Exorcist sent audiences scurrying for the doors," wrote the film critic John Foote on the website The Wrap.

But you don't to need to have severed your own arm to have suffered an ordeal worthy of cinema. A thriller based on the true story of Valerie Plame, who was outed as a US spy by the White House, is screening at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival this week. Fair Game stars Naomi Watts as Plame, the wife of a diplomat and a mother who is put through the wringer by the Bush White House, allegedly because of her husband's public criticism of the invasion of Iraq.

One of the most infamous real-life ordeal movies is 1993's Alive, about the survivors of a 1972 plane crash in the Andes mountains, who were driven to eat their dead friends. Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 was carrying 45 people, including the members of one of the country's rugby teams and their entourage. The impact of the crash, the freezing conditions and the lack of food meant that only 16 passengers survived the 72-day ordeal.

But it's not just films about people who cheat death that sell tickets. The 2004 film Open Water was based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who in 1998 went out with a scuba-diving group on the Great Barrier Reef and were never heard from again. The film speculated that the Lonergans were accidentally left behind by the dive company and forced to endure several terrifying hours of thirst, uncertainty and circling sharks before dying.

One doesn't need uncertainty for a box office hit. The exact details of the demise of Christopher McCandless, who inspired 2007's Into the Wild, are well known. Raised in an upper-middle class Washington DC family, McCandless chose an itinerant life of self-imposed poverty as he trekked the length and breadth of the US. In April 1992 he hiked into the Alaskan wilderness with little food or equipment, hoping to live a life of solitude. When he was found in September, he had been dead for two weeks and weighed just 30kg.

But one film production company is banking on a rather less harrowing ordeal to become a box office hit. It's the story of the British café owner Kay Ure and her husband John, who live in the most northwesterly point in the UK, and had to spend Christmas apart (as well as much of the new year) when a blizzard blocked access to their home.

Kay had gone to a nearby town to buy a Christmas turkey, but when she tried to return, the extreme weather made the precarious access road to their lighthouse impassable. Her husband John was forced to fend for himself over the festive period with few provisions left in the house. But the blizzard had a silver lining - the couple signed a contract with the Beverley Hills-based, Furst Films, to dramatise the story, worth $60,000 - enough to keep them in turkeys for years to come.