Cuba Gooding Jr. Boards Athena Saves Christmas; Liam ODonnell Directing Triggermen; Mysteries Of The Heart Castings; More Film Briefs

EXCLUSIVE: Academy Award winner Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire) has joined the cast of director Josh Webber’s holiday pic Athena Saves Christmas, with Christina Cooper coming aboard as producer.

The film follows Samuel (Paxton Kubitz) and his friends, along with Sam’s trusted dog Athena, on an adventure of a lifetime, as they match wits with a mob boss and look to solve a series of riddles, in order to save Christmas for their town. 

Webber is also producing for Webber Films, alongside Michael Girgenti, Henry Penzi and Cooper. Tony Mercedes and Tamara Johnson are serving as EPs, with Robert Miano (Fast & Furious), Richard Portnow (Hitchcock), Mars Callahan, Glenn Plummer, Kaitlyn Raymond and more rounding out the cast. Gooding Jr. is repped by manager and attorney Peter Toumbekis.

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EXCLUSIVE: Liam O’Donnell (XYZ Films’ Skyline franchise) has been tapped to direct the action-thriller Triggermen for attorney and CPA Ceasar Richbow’s production company, Hail Caesar Films.

The film penned by Chad Law (Hero Wanted) and novelist Ian Graham centers on a recently widowed woman who takes in a mysterious stranger with a gunshot wound when he washes ashore at her remote island home. She must then fight for both of their lives when his assailants arrive intent on finishing the job.

Pic is fully financed, with casting underway. Richbow (Boss Level, Midnight in the Switchgrass) will produce, with Law exec producing. O’Donnell is repped by Zero Gravity Management and Miloknay Weiner; Law by HG5 Entertainment and Blue Water Law.

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EXCLUSIVE: Invention Studios Founder & President Nicholas Weinstock (Severance) has boarded writer-director Yasir Masood‘s debut feature Istikhara, New York as an executive producer. The film joins a slate at Invention that includes Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora, the Hulu film Plus One, Netflix’s features Alex Strangelove and The Package, and Paramount+’s Queenpins.

A micro-budget indie shot in Brooklyn and its surrounding areas, Istikhara tells the story of artist and Brooklyn transplant Reza, recent immigrant and revolutionary Babbu, and aspiring Imam and crony capitalist, Rahul — a trio finding themselves in an America where they are ever the more important but feeling even more looked over. The project produced by Masood landed him the Emerging Filmmaker Award at the 2022 Los Angeles Asian American Film Festival.

“Yasir is clearly a rising talent as both a writer and director; and his great instincts, keen skills, and infectious passion when it comes to elevating the stories of the un-storied is phenomenally exciting,” Weinstock told Deadline. “It’s an honor to be part of the effort to get this great movie — and wildly gifted director — out to the worldwide audience they deserve.”

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EXCLUSIVE: Ansley Gordon (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Bret Green (Jane the Virgin) and Karen Abercrombie (War Room) are set to star in Mysteries of the Heart — the first Arizona-based original film from the L.A.-based Nicely Entertainment, also marking its first for Sony subsidiary, Pure Flix.

The faith-based film being directed by Brittany Goodwin (If You’re Gone) from Ansley Gordon’s script centers on her character Abby Brooks, a true-crime podcaster struggling to come to terms with the loss of her baby and her subsequent divorce. Moving back to her hometown, she quickly gets wrapped up in a mystery surrounding the untimely death of her eccentric neighbor. Following the clues left behind for her, Abby goes on a journey of faith, reconnection and adventure as she works with her childhood crush, Matt (Green), a local cop who has secretly had feelings for Abby for years, to solve the layered mystery.

Nicely Entertainment founder Vanessa Shapiro is serving as EP on the project, with the company’s newly installed Head of Production, David Hickey, producing. Gordon is repped by Mitchell & Associates Talent, Privilege Talent and Goodman, Genow, Schenkman; Green by Stagecoach Entertainment; Abercrombie by Houghton Talent and Treasure Coast Talent Agency; and Goodwin by Carolina Talent and Treasure Coast Talent Agency.

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EXCLUSIVE: Deadline has an exclusive trailer for the David Oyelowo-narrated environmental documentary Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire, which is set for release in theaters nationwide on April 7.

The film from director Trip Jennings (Rewilding a Mountain) takes viewers on a journey to better understand wildfire. It opens with the harrowing escape from Paradise, California as the town ignited from wind-driven embers and burned within a few hours of the fire’s start, then continuing to recent record-shattering fires. Pic features commentary from top forest and climate experts, Indigenous prescribed firelighters and fire survivors, and helps reimagine our relationship with fire as we prepare for an increasingly hotter, drier future. 

Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire‘s production and distribution have been supported by National Geographic Society, Patagonia, Pacific Northwest Foundation, and the American Red Cross. Jennings and Ralph Bloemers wrote the script, with the latter also exec producing, and Sara Quinn serving as producer. Watch the film’s trailer below.

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