Friday, 22 April 2011


Filmmaker Yor-El Francis and crew arrives in Monrovia today to begin shooting of Bai T. Moore’s Classic Mystery novel

ai T. Moore’s most celebrated piece of literary work is coming to the big screen.
Liberian film director Yor-El Francis and his filming crew are due in from the United States of America Friday to begin work on an adaptation of “Murder in the Cassava Patch.”
Based on a true story, Moore's Murder in the Cassava Patch is regarded as Liberia's best-known novel. Published by Ducor Publishing House (Monrovia) in 1968, it remains required reading for every Liberian high school student, and is widely regarded as the one real Liberian literary classic in a very small literary tradition.

Now Francis and team will be looking to bring Moore’s magic to the movie screen.
Arriving along with Francis are Director of Photography, Everette Nicolls,  Art Director Doughba Caranda III, First Assistant Director Emeka Obiamiwe, and two of the films actors, Eugene Martin and Barnie Jones. The group will arrive via Brussels Airlines on the evening of Friday April 22, 2011.

Casting for several of the additional roles including the pivotal role of Tene will continue in Monrovia. The film is scheduled to shoot in and around Liberia with many of its primary locations in Dimeh, the actual town the book was both set and written in.

Unique privillege
Yor-El Francis had the unique privilege of growing up in an extended family. He was raised by his mother, Esther Martin-Benjamin, a former beauty queen turned educator and his father, Honorable Leroy E. Francis Snr. an architectural engineer turned politician who moonlighted as a Caribbean Choral singer - as well as his grandparents who were Liberian diplomats stationed in countries as diverse as Haiti, Sierra Leone, Germany, Ghana, and Nigeria. Not to mention his numerous uncles, aunts and cousins who all took a turn in raising him. He attended the Hilton Van Ee School and the American Cooperative School in Monrovia, Liberia and then the Sierra Leone Grammar School in Freetown, Sierra Leone where he completed his secondary education.

Upon graduation, the family moved to New York City where Yor-El enrolled in Hunter College, a liberal arts school on Manhattan's Upper East-side. He studied film production and interned at MTV Networks during his undergraduate years. Following Hunter, he was employed at the FOX News Channel where he worked as an Entertainment Producer. After a stint at Fox, Yor-El moved on to the Black Entertainment Television where he also worked as an Entertainment News Producer.

In 2003, he was accepted into the prestigious two-year Directors Guild of America's Producer Training Plan. The program sent him to work at NBC's "The West Wing," CBS' "NCIS," TNT's "The Closer," and the WB's "7th Heaven," as well as several other productions.
  Upon completing the program, Mr. Francis worked on several film productions including the films “Fracture,” “Crank,” and “Dreamgirls.”

2005 saw Yor-El winning the African Film Commission's top prize for screen-writing for his screenplay "Fire of the Sun," a story based on the life of an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh, Piankhi, who is an unwilling hero compelled to bring together the country's fractured lower and upper kingdoms.

Sights set on directing
After years of working as an Assistant Director in Hollywood, Yor-El set his sights on directing his first feature film, an adaptation of the Liberian classic by Bai T. Moore Snr., “Murder in the Cassava Patch. Having attended Hilton Van Ee with Bai T. Moore Jr., Mr. Francis reached out to his primary school friend and negotiated with the Moore family for the rights to turn the novella into a feature film.

To assist him in this endeavor, Mr. Francis solicited the help of Liberian Fine Artist Doughba Caranda, III.  Mr. Caranda’s work is in a permanent collection at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C. He was also one of two Africans and the youngest artist to be featured in the Schomberg’s Center Collections publication of The 100 Black New York Photographers of the 20th century. Mr. Caranda is also the founder of Caranda Fine Foods and Project Momentum.  Caranda Fine Foods is a gourmet African food company focused on tea, coffee, cocoa, and spices all sourced from Africa.  Project Momentum is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to deliver direct medical aid in Liberia.  Since its founding in 2001, Project Momentum has sent millions of dollars in pharmaceuticals and direct medical aid to hospitals and clinics in Liberia. Mr. Caranda will be the Art Director on the film.

Also on board are Everette Nicolls, a Bahamian cinematographer whose work on the NY independent film scene has been pivotal in creating a cutting edge voice for films featuring Blacks in the Diaspora. His work has appeared at Urbanworld Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, Slam Dance Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, the Jamerican Film Festival and the Bahamian Film Festival.

Peter Ballah on board
Veteran Liberian stage actor Peter Ballah will also join the cast of  “Murder in the Cassava Patch,” in the pivotal role of Bleng. Mr. Ballah credits his success in the cultural entertainment business and knowledge to the late Mr. Bai T. Moore who taught him all he learned about Liberian culture. He is the founder of the Flomo Theater and is a legend in the Liberian entertainment community.

Eugene Martin is a Liberian performer living and working in New York City. His work in a regional theater performance caught the eye of director Yor-El Francis and after a riveting audition he was cast in the leading role of Gortokai, the protagonist in the film “Murder in the Cassava Patch. A consummate professional, Mr. Martin has studied drama and improvisational theater at various institutions in New York City.

Barnie Jones first stuck the attention of Yor-El during a stage performance in New York City, he was convinced that Ms. Jones would be the antagonist of the film ‘Murder in the Cassava Patch,” in the role of Kema.

Also on board is Thomas Lee Wright who will serve as a producer.  Perhaps best known for penning the original screenplay for the Warner Brothers hit "New Jack City" starring Wesley Snipes, Chris Rock and Ice-T, and for his political documentaries, including "Eight-Tray Gangster: The Making of a Crip" (Discovery Channel) which tells the story of L.A.'s Rodney King riots from a gang member’s perspective, and the award-winning Stuart Townsend picture WTO "Battle-in-Seattle" chronicle "Trade Off" (International Human Rights Watch).

  Mr. Wright and Mr. Francis first met at the home of Stuart Townsend and Charlize Theron six years ago at a birthday party Ms. Theron threw for Stuart, her then partner.  The two immediately bonded and have been searching for the right project to bring them together. “Murder in the Cassava Patch proved to be that vehicle.

Four weeks of shooting
A Minnesota native, Wright attended Harvard College, receiving a degree in English literature. Wright continued his education at Trinity College, in Dublin Ireland where he studied Irish theater and playing point guard for its national championship basketball team.

 Moving to Los Angeles, he became a story editor at Walt Disney and Columbia Pictures, before serving as a creative executive at Paramount Pictures, where he helped develop "48 Hours", "Trading Places" and "Flashdance", among other movies. Soon after leaving corporate ranks, Wright's original story treatment for "The Godfather, Part Three" launched his screenwriting career and led to writing projects for every major studio and many of Hollywood's top producers, including Peter Guber, Dino De Laurentiis, Mike Medavoy, Daniel Melnick, Don Simpson, and Casey Silver, among others. Wright also co-wrote a pair of widely-used film school texts, "American Screenwriters" and "Working In Hollywood".

The film is scheduled to shoot for four weeks in Liberia with post-production being done in New York City with a February 2012 release.