Beverly Allen Screenplay Wins Award

Staff reports 05/15/10More articles
Beverly Allen got bit by the movie bug more than a decade ago, when television producer Bob Altman approached her about writing a story on Bosnia. “I knew him through a mutual friend over there,” she recalled recently. “Bob liked what I wrote, so I told him that I’d sell it to him, if only he’d let me write the screenplay. And he did.”

The result was her first script, “His Name Is Daniel,” which Altman included in his made-for-TV series “War Child,” produced by Hallmark Entertainment.

Since then, Allen has completed two other screenplays: “Lady Lush,” a biopic about Marty Mann, founding director of the National Council on Alcoholism, and “The Bitter Chalice,” recently named “Best Feature-Length Screenplay” in a competition for unproduced scripts at the Roma Independent Film Festival (RIFF).

Described by Allen and her co-writer, Jacques Lipkau Goyard, as an “action-drama love story,” “The Bitter Chalice” is set against the Siege of Sarajevo in the 1990s. “I want this story to remind people that mass rape was not only confined to the Bosnian War; it has remained a problem in many parts of the world,” affirms Allen, a professor of French, Italian, Italian Cinema and comparative literature at Syracuse University. “All of us are affected by it, directly or indirectly.”

“The Bitter Chalice” stems from two sources: the wartime love story “Una donna, una vita,” which Goyard penned in 1993 — a modern retelling of Vittorio De Sica’s “Two Women,” starring Sophia Loren — and Allen’s book, "Rape Warfare" (University of Minnesota Press, 1996). The latter is an exposé about rape/death camps in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, and has contributed to two major resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council, and to the status of rape as a war crime at the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

For decades, Allen has been haunted by the question, “What can be done to prevent genocide?” She wrote "Rape Warfare" as part of her response to that question. The book eventually led to “His Name is Daniel,” shot in Sarajevo and released for global broadcast in 2001. (The film was recently shown on campus.)

Allen’s book and script, as well as Goyard’s story, provided grist for “The Bitter Chalice,” which concerns a Jewish American woman who becomes involved with a Bosnian Muslim engineer at Syracuse University. The couple marries and relocates to Sarajevo, where they are caught in the crossfire of an ethnic cleansing campaign in the Bosnian War.

“The girl’s American citizenship doesn’t matter to the Serbian nationalist militia, who throw her in with Bosnian and Croatian prisoners,” says Allen. “The title comes from an old Bosnian proverb, ‘Death is a bitter chalice from which we all must drink.’”

Allen sees the chalice as a metaphor for the womb, which is “raped and rendered bitter.” “Jacques found the quote, which, in the screenplay, is posted next to a dead body on a wall in a Bosnian warehouse,” she adds.

Allen collaborated with Goyard, who runs a production company in Italy, through a series of trans-Atlantic trips and any number of early morning Skype sessions. The producer has known Allen since the ‘70s, and says that collaborating with her remotely is not too different from working with her face-to-face.

“With most writers, we meet, have a cup of coffee, and we write,” says Goyard, speaking by phone from his office in Rome. “With Beverly, we’re on the phone, sipping espresso, and writing. It goes very smoothly.”

Allen recalls one memorable visit when she attended Garret Brown's Steadicam seminar at Goyard's invitation on the Italian island of Ischia. Brown is the Oscar-winning cinematographer and inventor of the Steadicam who also later visited Syracuse University. “At that point, we were still hammering out the details of the story and were working on the characters,” she recalls, praising her colleague for his thorough technical knowledge. “After we hung out all day with Garret, Jacques and I sat in a café and argued about our characters. What a mind he has for story, character, and setting.”

Recognized with the RIFF prize, “The Bitter Chalice” is creating a buzz among industry insiders. This spring, says Allen, a group of producers, directors, and actors are reviewing the script in New York City. She hopes to see the screenplay picked up by a major studio that will give it the resources to support shooting in Syracuse and Strasbourg (two locations where SU students would have prime internship opportunities) and in Sarajevo and parts of Italy.

“Turning a script into a film is a long, arduous process,” notes Allen, who finished “The Bitter Chalice” nearly a year ago. She and Goyard are quick to point out that theirs is not a “Hollywood” project, despite attempts to interest directors such as Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) and Roman Polanski (“The Ghost Writer," "The Pianist” and “Chinatown”).

“It probably is a $15 million film,” says Goyard, noting that the budget could drop to $5 million, if the project is made into an American made-for-TV movie, or it could jump to $12 million to $15 million, if the script is made into a European film with a “reasonable cast and a good director.”

Producer Christian von Tippelskirch, who recently worked on Polanksi’s “The Ghost Writer,” is optimistic about “The Bitter Chalice.” “Rape has become a part of warfare, and Beverly is fearless in confronting this crime,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The way she weaves a global conflict into a narrative dramatic structure makes a difficult theme simultaneously provocative and humane.”

Arthur Flowers, associate professor of English at SU, is not surprised by the critical response to Allen’s work. “She has this strange academe-artist mode that operates like some kind of philosopher’s stone,” says the author and performance poet. “Anything Beverly does is part of a multifaceted endeavor that reeks of significance. Work like hers deserves recognition.”

Allen attributes part of her success to Newhouse professor Sharon Hollenback, from whom she took a screenwriting course in 2003. Fresh from spending the summer in the SU Library, amid the Marty Mann Papers, Allen set out to draft her first feature-length screenplay.

“Pulling a gripping story out of a thoroughly researched biography is really tough,” says Allen of “Lady Lush,” which was inspired by “A Biography of Mrs. Marty Mann: The First Lady of Alcoholics Anonymous” (Hazelden Foundation, 2001). “Sharon’s class was a humbling but instructive experience. She really stretched me as a writer.”

Allen, who owns film rights to the Mann biography, says that “Lady Lush” has been optioned twice in Hollywood and is being reviewed by Tippelskirch and filmmaker Sharon Greytak, who now teaches in SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts' Transmedia Program.

Till then, Allen has plenty to do. This summer, she travels to Tuscany to work with Goyard on their second screenplay — a feature-length 3D project tentatively titled “Ararat.” She also plans to enter “The Bitter Chalice” in other competitions and to build curricular opportunities around the screenplay.

“We have a lot to learn from Bosnians, especially Bosnian Muslims, with our narrow view of Islam,” says Allen. “I want my viewers to feel like they’ve experienced a great story that makes them uplifted, inspired, and moved to the core. I want them to turn their outrage into outrageous acts of prevention, protection, healing, and forgiveness.”

TAGS: Beverly Allen, Jacque Lipkau-Goyard, The Bitter Chalice, His Name Was Daniel, Marty Mann, Lady Lush, rape as war crime, Bosnia, Rape Warfare book, Syracuse University, Best feature length screenplay award at Roma Independent Film Festival, Garrett Brown Steadicam, Seige of Sarajevo
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