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Lions Gate and LSL Productions Come Together for Lennon Doc

By Tamara Krinsky

After scoring a hit with Grizzly Man and garnering a standing ovation at the Toronto Film Festival screening of Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, Lions Gate Films hopes to continue its documentary success with the recently announced The U.S. Vs. John Lennon, a co-production between Lions Gate and LSL Productions that began pre-production in September.

The film covers the period in Lennon's life from 1966 to 1976, examining his evolution from musical superstar to peace activist, and the US government's efforts to silence him. Yoko Ono, Lennon's widow, has pledged her support and cooperation to the project. LSL Productions' David Leaf (Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of SmiLE ) and John Scheinfeld ( Who is Harry Nilsson (and Why is Everybody Talkin' About Him)?) will co-write, direct and produce the film, which they have been trying to make for over a decade.

The film finally gained momentum a few years ago when a colleague introduced Leaf to the attorney who handled the Lennon estate. "I went to the attorney and presented what I wanted to do, and the timing was right," says Leaf. "We reached an agreement with Yoko, and then went to look for the perfect distributor for the film. Lions Gate was at the top of our list."

Kevin Beggs, Lions Gate's president of television programming and production, maintains that the Lennon doc has the kind of true theatrical potential that excites everyone at the company. "These topics have to be loud enough going in that it gets people's attention," says Beggs. "You kind of know it in the first sentence: 'John Lennon vs. Richard Nixon' really grabs you. When I sat with these guys and read their treatment and learned about the research they'd uncovered and all the declassified documents--it was a chapter about Lennon that had never really been brought to light."

What Leaf thinks will be most compelling about the film is how it resonates with contemporary audiences. "The same issues that John Lennon was confronting in the early 1970s are mirrored in the post-9/11 world when celebrities speak out against the administration or the war," Leaf observes.

"As the audience becomes immersed in John's story through this movie and the story of that era--the Nixon administration, the war in Vietnam, the anti-war movement--the echoes of it will be felt."

At press time, Lions Gate Films had plans to release the film theatrically in 2006 to coincide with the 30th anniversary of John Lennon being granted "Permanent Residency" in the US.


Tamara Krinsky is associate editor of Documentary magazine.