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Gaddafi Money Casts Shadow in Hollywood

Things have gotten chilly here for Natural Selection, the film production company backed by Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi’s son Saadi.

Hollywood sign
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images
Hollywood sign

On its office line, a recorded message has been the only answer for much of the last week.

Outside the company’s suite on Sunset Boulevard — across the street from the Hustler store and under a billboard promoting the Jerry Weintraub documentary “His Way” — a parking spot identified as Natural Selection’s is blocked by a battered white van with four flat tires. (An attendant’s notice taped to the back is dated Feb. 2.)

And Mathew Beckerman, the producer who made a splash in Variety last year with word that he had rounded up $100 million in financing for the company from Mr. Gaddafi and others, is suddenly getting a very cold shoulder.

Over the weekend, Mr. Beckerman’s name was deleted from the producer credits of a documentary, “Live at Preservation Hall: Louisiana Fairytale,” on the official Web site of the South by Southwest festival, which begins this week in Austin, Tex.

In an e-mail on Saturday, Theresa Vibberts, who works with the movie’s director, Danny Clinch, said simply, “Natural Selection is not involved in the film.”

Neither Ms. Vibberts nor Mr. Clinch responded further to queries about the sudden disappearance of Mr. Beckerman’s credit, or a listing that shows Natural Selection among the movie’s backers on the Internet Movie Database.

So it goes when Hollywood begins to suspect it has made a mistake.

Speaking through an intermediary on Monday, Mr. Beckerman declined to discuss his company, or a Gaddafi investment that had been treated as routine here until the uprising against the Gaddafi regime in Libya turned bloody.

In recent days, the pop stars Nelly Furtado, Mariah Carey, Beyoncé and Usher all said they were giving away money they had received for entertaining at Gaddafi events.

Hollywood, meanwhile, has pretty much joined Mr. Beckerman in doing what it does best when trouble crops up — hiding out.

The writer David McKenna and the actors Mickey Rourke and Eva Amurri, who is Susan Sarandon’s daughter, have all been connected to some extent with film projects financed by Natural Selection since Saadi el-Gaddafi signed on.

A spokesman for the Paradigm agency, which represents Mr. McKenna, said on Tuesday that the writer could not be reached.

A representative of One Talent Management, which represents Ms. Amurri, and a spokeswoman for International Creative Management, which represents Mr. Rourke, had no comment.

But several people who have been involved with Mr. Beckerman’s list of films — who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid conflict — described a scramble by major Hollywood players and institutions to distance themselves from projects in which Mr. Gaddafi might be involved.

William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, which had been identified in several reports as a distribution partner on Natural Selection’s planned crime film “The Ice Man,” for instance, is now unlikely to get involved because of concerns about the Gaddafis, according to two people connected to the situation.

A spokesman for the agency said its policy was not to comment on individual projects.

Kevin Iwashina, whose Preferred Content has been lined up as a sales agent for “Isolation,” which has already been shot and stars Ms. Amurri, declined to comment.

Schuyler Moore, an entertainment lawyer who was identified in a 2009 news report as having helped Mr. Beckerman assemble the Gaddafi deal, did not respond to queries.

Meanwhile at 42West, a high-powered entertainment public relations firm, a letter to the news media that identified Natural Selection as handling the “Preservation Hall” documentary at South by Southwest is now being described — in conversations conditioned on anonymity to minimize conflict — as having been in error.

According to people familiar with the go-round, 42West planned to help Mr. Beckerman when insiders thought his involvement with the documentary was purely personal. But it backpedaled when it appeared that Natural Selection, backed by Mr. Gaddafi, might have a role.

As Mr. Beckerman has not been returning calls, the company’s future remains unclear, as does the extent of Mr. Gaddafi’s involvement with its various films. Two people who have dealt closely with Mr. Beckerman said they were introduced to Saadi el-Gaddafi at film festivals abroad, though never in Los Angeles.

Both said they found Mr. Gaddafi, a former professional soccer player, to be vibrant, forthcoming and committed to the notion of building rapport between Libya and the United States.

Neither expressed qualms about past allegations that Libya had backed terrorists or abused its people. Both pointed out that Hollywood had routinely welcomed investors whose peripheral connections might not be the purest.

In a September posting, The Daily Beast reported that Mr. Beckerman, who once worked in the music business, was introduced to Mr. Gaddafi on a beach in Mauritius at a time when he was looking for funds.

Indeed, the Gaddafis are not even the first among African strongmen to have flirted with the film world.

In 1990, the Italian financier Giancarlo Parretti was trying to line up the Liberian government as an investor in a company he was using to buy MGM/UA Communications. But the relationship ended when Mr. Parretti’s ally, the Liberian president Samuel K. Doe, was tortured and killed by opponents.

During the current uprising, Mr. Gaddafi has given speeches and appeared on television defending his father’s regime.

In 2009, Natural Selection made “The Experiment,” a psychological drama that starred Forest Whitaker and Adrien Brody, and released the film on video through Sony Pictures. It shot “Isolation” early last year and has been selling distribution rights to the movie through what appears to be a shifting team of partners since then.

(At one point, William Morris Endeavor was asked to handle foreign sales, but ultimately did not, according to people involved with the matter.) In perhaps its most prominent move, the company also bought rights to Philip Carlo’s book “The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer,” about Richard Kuklinski.

Filming was to have begun as early as this spring. But the script is still being written, according to people who were briefed on the project.

Mr. Rourke, one of those people said, had expressed interest in the lead role but had made no formal deal and will not face any decision about working with a Gaddafi-backed company until the screenplay is done.

Until then, and a world away, Mr. Beckerman’s major backer has a lot on his mind.

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