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Premiere, final tribute to Ismail Merchant

Writers, actors and actresses, Merchant's surrogate family, had gathered commemorate his 45-year career, says Vijay Dutt.
None | By Vijay Dutt, London
PUBLISHED ON MAR 21, 2006 06:10 PM IST

The premiere of The White Countess at Curzon cinema hall in Mayfair on Sunday night turned into a celebration of the life of its producer Ismail Merchant who died last May at the age of 68.

Almost the entire British film world had gathered there to pay a final farewell to Merchant.

Writers, actors and actresses, Merchant's surrogate family, from the co-producer who worked on 23 Merchant-Ivory films, to 10-year-old Madeleine Daly, who appears in his last movie, had gathered commemorate Merchant's 45-year career.

The gathering proved right Ruth Prawer Jhabvala describing the "unbroken friendship" within the company.

Those at the premiere included Melvyn Bragg, the co-producer on two Merchant-Ivory films, Vanessa Redgrave, Greta Scacchi and Christopher Cazenove, actors in Heat and Dust which also had its premiere at Curzon in the early 80s.

His close friend and partner, director James Ivory who along with Merchant made 40 films including the triple Oscar winner Howards End, committed himself to carrying on the vision of Merchant.

He said that the Merchant Ivory company would not only continue making films but also would maintain the production value set by Merchant. "I keep hearing that the White Countess was the final Merchant Ivory film," he told the press.

But he averred it was not the final film.

Ivory revealed that he was to set to work on another film which Merchant was involved before he died. The film, The City of Your Final Destination based on Peter Cameron's novel is to be made in Argentina. It tells the story of an Iranian academic who wants to write the biography of an author who killed himself but is blocked by the man's family.


The White Countess, littered with actors and artisans who loyally serviced their work for years, is to be released on Friday. It has received good ratings. The White Countess is set in Shanghai in the mid-30s and stars Vanessa Redgrave, her sister and daughter. The film charts the relationship between a blind American ex-diplomat and Countess Sofia, a fallen Russian aristocrat whom he rescues from prostitution. The real intrigue comes from a powerful Japanese fixer who introduces political poison.

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