‘Grandpa Was An Emperor’ Documentary Exec Produced By Cynthia Erivo Sets Freestyle Release

EXCLUSIVE: Freestyle Digital Media has acquired North American VOD rights to the documentary Grandpa Was An Emperor from director Constance Marks, whose last feature, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey, won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance.

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The new film, which premiered to rave reviews at the DOC NYC Festival in 2021, is set for theatrical engagement in Los Angeles from April 7-13 at Laemmles Town Center in Encino, with evening showings on the 7th and 8th to be followed by Q&As with Marks, as well as her fellow producers and talent. It’s set for release on digital on May 30.

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Exec produced by 2x Academy Award nominee Cynthia Erivo, Grandpa Was An Emperor follows Yeshi Kassa, great-granddaughter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, as she embarks on a personal quest to discover what happened to her closest relatives during the coup of 1974. While Yeshi and her older sister were thousands of miles away in a British boarding school, her great-grandfather was deposed by a revolution, setting off a harrowing chain of events that would put her parents and siblings in grave danger. For the very first time, the royal family examines the events that led to the collapse of a 3,000-year-old dynasty and reflects on how, against all odds, they were able to survive this turbulent time in Ethiopian history.

Marks produced the pic under her Constance Marks Productions banner, along with Corinne LaPook and Erivo’s Edith’s Daughter Productions, with Erivo being joined as an exec producer by Solome Williams.

Marks said in a statement to Deadline that the timing in her making of the doc “was fortunate because Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie’s family asked me to help them share their story just before losing many first-hand witnesses to the revolution. As a filmmaker, this journey was crammed with unexpected surprises at every turn–some heartbreaking and many utterly life-affirming.”

“I was instantly and immeasurably moved by Yeshi’s story and couldn’t be more thrilled to help shepherd her story and that of her family to the screen,” added Erivo. “Rarely if ever, do we get to see stories from the African diaspora, that so beautifully and specifically explores the duality and complexity of family legacy amidst political, social and personal triumph and tragedy. Yeshi’s vulnerability and compassion when it comes to re-opening old wounds that many of us would be too fearful to broach, is a testament to ‘truth being stranger than fiction.'”

Continues the EP: “With the brilliant guidance of Constance Marks and Corinne LaPook, GRANDPA WAS AN EMPEROR reminds us all of the human ties that bind us and our shared accountability.”

Freestyle Digital Media negotiated the deal to acquire Grandpa Was An Emperor directly with UTA. Watch an exclusive trailer for the film above.

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