A House in the Sky, co-authored by former Red Deer resident Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett of the New York Times, is set to hit the big screen.
Annapurna Pictures (who has done hit movies such as Zero Dark Thirty, American Hustle and Her) will produce the movie along with actress Rooney Mara, who will also star in the film as well. Mara is best known for her Oscar-nominated role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
Lindhout’s book, which details accounts of torture, despair and ultimate survival in the 15-months she spent in captivity in Somalia after being kidnapped in 2008, has been on the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Maclean’s and the New York Times’ bestseller lists. It was also included in The Globe and Mail’s 100 Best Books of 2013, The Quill and Quire’s 2013 Books of the Year and was one of New York Times’ Notable Books of 2013, among others.
Lindhout, who recently returned from the second leg of her book tour in the United States after A House in the Sky was released in paperback, said she is thrilled her story was optioned for a film.
“I’m really excited about it. We’re at the next stage of it where we have a shortlist of incredible directors and actors that will play other roles. Screenwriters have already started working on it and it’s a project that is very much moving forward,” she said. “This is what is special about this – books get options all the time but it’s very rare that immediately one of the United States’ biggest production companies steps up and says we want it and we want to fund it and we believe in it. It almost never happens like that.”
Although turning her story into a movie was never an initial goal of Lindhout’s, offers came quite quickly after she was released in 2009, she said.
“I was approached by quite a number of directors and producers and actresses who were interested in turning my story into a film. I was never interested in any of the offers that were coming my way and it wasn’t quite my goal.
“The only reason things really changed for me was I got a letter through my agent from Rooney Mara. She had read the book and was so emotionally impacted by the book. She wrote me this really emotional, thoughtful and deeply compassionate letter and she let me know that if I was ever thinking about turning the book into a film that she would really like to talk to me about it,” she said, adding she wrote Mara back and suggested they have a discussion about it. “We ended up meeting with my co-author Sara in Maine last fall and immediately I felt the same kind of connection with Rooney as I did with Sara.
“We had long conversations about what the story was and it was aspects of the story that I feel really passionate about – the transformative aspects of my personal experience – that she really resonated with. I felt like I could trust Rooney and that she really understood what I would want to get out of this.”
After their initial meeting, Mara found a production company, Annapurna Pictures, who got onboard for the film. Lindhout and Corbett were brought onboard as consultants.
“They want my input in everything and that is part of the reason I feel so comfortable with it. I am working with a group of people who want to hear from me and want it to be as absolutely accurate as possible from my perspective,” she said.
“This is going to be a film that is really going to touch people’s lives. It is ultimately going to remind people of the strength of the human spirit and that we can get through unimaginable adversity.”
It is hoped the movie will begin production sometime next year.
In addition, since September, Lindhout has traveled to various countries promoting A House in the Sky.
“The story itself is evolving as my life is ever-evolving and changing and so too is my comfort level with what happened to me. With having my book come out there was a level of detail that was out there that just hadn’t been before and I almost needed to step into that,” she said. “The way that I talk now is very different from even a year ago. I found that my narrative has changed a lot.”
Her life isn’t set to slow down anytime soon either.
Lindhout has enrolled at the University of Calgary for the fall where she will undertake part time studies in psychology. She will also be heading to the Middle East on another speaking engagement as well.
“Since the book came out last September, my life has changed in ways that I couldn’t really have expected and that is due to the success of the book. When I was working on the book with my co-author, it took us three and a half years to complete. Like any creative process you have no way to know what the outcome will be. But you do your best and your pour your heart into it and it launches and in my case – I can’t tell you how much it has meant to me in particularly in Canada and the United States, as well as other countries – that the public has just received the story so well with really open hearts.
“The other week I was at a conference and just before I spoke, Hillary Clinton spoke. I just pinch myself – I am a girl from Red Deer and I went through something that was really extraordinary and I survived and I tried to make the most out of it but I don’t think I could have ever imagined I would have the kind of opportunities that I have been afforded now because of the book and the decisions on the other side. Every day I feel so grateful for it.”
Meanwhile, as for the Global Enrichment Foundation, which was founded by Lindhout, it continues to thrive.
The GEF’s mission is to cultivate leadership to build safer and stronger communities by providing women and girls with opportunities to empower themselves through education, training and economic capacity building – paving the way for all individuals to be agents of change and effective advocates for themselves, their families and their communities.
Since it was founded, the GEF has helped to fund primary education, provide university scholarships, run a literacy school for Somali refugees, provide counseling, education and business opportunities as well as sponsor all-girls teams to cultivate leadership through sport, fund school-based food programs and provide emergency food aid to communities in crisis, among others, all in Somalia.
Nasim Abdullahi, who is based in Ottawa, is the new executive director of the GEF.
“I feel the organization is better than it’s ever been because it’s in such good hands. She is a young Somali woman who is so passionate about her country and educational opportunities for youth and women there and she has just done such a good job at shaping the organization over the last year that it is really exciting too for us.”