Wojtek set for Hollywood with reported interest from Spielberg

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HIS profile has already been boosted in recent years thanks to a number of documentaries and a book by local author Aileen Orr and now Wojtek the Soldier Bear is set to hit the bright lights of Hollywood after Aileen sold the film rights to Irish writer and director Brendan Foley.

Wojtek, who came over to British shores with the Polish army during the Second World War, has been a popular figure in both Berwickshire and Poland’s history for a number of years now thanks to tales of him taking swimming trips with troops and sharing beers and cigarettes with them.

Like his comrades he lived at a base in Hutton before being taken to Edinburgh Zoo when the conflict ended, becoming a big attraction for tourists there until he died in 1963.

And now his life looks like being immortalised on the big screen with Hollywood-based Brendan, the man determined to do it. He plans to take the tale of Wojtek to Hollywood with help from Ned Dowd producer on Mel Gibson’s ‘Apocalypto’,

He commented: “It’s an amazing story- a bit like ‘War Horse’ but with humour and pathos alongside the action- and the bear is a real character.”

Brendan is hoping to get a script ready for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and one of the studios believed to have shown some early interest is Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks, who made ‘War Horse’.

And the pace at which things are moving has taken Aileen by surprise.

“It’s all going at break neck speed at the moment,” she told ‘The Berwickshire’ earlier this week.

“Brendan first got in touch with me six months ago from Los Angeles. He hadn’t read the book but he’d heard about the story.

“He eventually managed to get hold of a copy of the book and after he and his wife Shelley, who is also a scriptwriter, had both read it she told he had to make a film.

“We chatted over Skype for a few months and then I finally met them in Edinburgh in September. We just clicked, Brendan and Shelley are of the same generation as my husband and I and have a great respect for war veterans.”

And after spending time with him Aileen said she knew Brendan was a man that could be trusted to take Wojtek to a whole new audience while staying true to his story.

“Brendan wasn’t the first person to show an interest in buying the rights or the one who made the highest offer but what I liked about him was his fantastic ethos,” she continued.

“It was similar to when I first met Alan Beattie Herriot (the sculptor commissioned to produce the planned Wojtek memorial statues); both have a real passion for the story.

“As much as I spoke to a lot of people when writing my book, I feel I only really told the Scottish side of the story. Brendan recognises that Wojtek is a huge international story and I’m confident that with his great ability and the fact that he’s worked with the biggest and best in the business he will do a fantastic job.”

Brendan has already written a synopsis for the film and is now well underway with its script and Aileen said a real buzz was already starting to gather around the project.

“There are some very exciting people behind it at the minute. I don’t want to single any out but we’re talking names famous worldwide.

“It’s all very exciting and not so long ago when I was at Heathrow I had my own five seconds of fame. I was outside WhSmith when a man walked past holding a copy of the book. I heard him say to his wife ‘I’m looking forward to reading this’, so I told him who I was and he insisted I sign it and get a picture with him!”