Way Back: Peter Weir’s Conventional WWII Movie

Peter Weir is the director of “The Way Back,” starring Colin Farrell, Jim Sturgess, and Ed Harris. The film, about the Soviet Gulags, is being released by Newmarket Films on December 29.


The winding path to production on THE WAY BACK was, in itself, a difficult journey.  The film’s core inspiration, Slavomir Rawicz’s The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, published in 1956, and since translated into 30 languages, was originally optioned by The Manchurian Candidate star Laurence Harvey (who died at age 45) and was once set up at Warner as a vehicle for Burt Lancaster. 

Attracting Peter Weir

Producer Joni Levin and her collaborator, executive producer Keith Clarke, optioned the novel in the mid-’90s from British actor Jeremy Child (A Fish Called Wanda).  After a series of re-ups and near misses, Levin and Clarke purchased the book option outright and sent it to CAA where it came to the attention of Peter Weir. The filmmaker took an interest in the story, and began ongoing discussions with Levin and Clarke about directing.

“Peter saw the film exactly as we did, and we told him we would wait for him, as long as it took,” recalls Levin.

Weir began reviewing background material, much of it from Clarke, including evidence presented in a BBC documentary that Rawicz’s account was fabricated or based on the ordeals of other prisoners. Clarke’s research was exhaustive. He held extended conversations with Rawicz’s adult children and viewed countless archival materials from around the globe – stretching from Russia, India, England, New Zealand, Poland, Australia, the Baltics, and on to the Hoover Institute in California.

Exclusive Films makes it happen

Weir completed his script in December of 2008, having already received a commitment in principle to the project from Guy East and Nigel Sinclair of Exclusive Films.  

Says Joni Levin, “My hat is off to Nigel, Guy, Simon Oakes and the entire team at Exclusive Films, because they shouldered this rock, like Sisyphus, continuing to push it uphill.  They shared our passion and commitment to this project, and were a big part of the small miracle of getting it made.”

Nigel Sinclair concludes, “Peter is one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. This is his first truly independent movie in many years and Exclusive Films is proud to have the opportunity to be part of his vision.”

He adds, “The film is not just an amazing adventure about a small group of people, but a story that speaks to all of humanity’s quest for survival and self-determination. In times of tumultuous change or hardship, that’s not something to be assumed or taken for granted. Sometimes it must be claimed with great struggle, one inch, one day, one step at a time.”

National Geographic joins the team

Through Guy East’s long relationship with Jake Eberts, Exclusive Films brought in National Geographic Entertainment, and, through that relationship, their associated fund, Imagenation Abu Dhabi.  With this development, Jake Eberts and Adam Leipzig of National Geographic Entertainment joined the team, and were supported by Abu Dhabi executives Mohamed Khalaf Al-Mazrouei and Edward Borgerding.