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CBC exploring Jack Layton biopic, has family's support

Jack Layton speaks to his wife Olivia Chow in November, 1991, after losing a bid to become mayor of Toronto.

Peter Tym/peter tym The Globe and Mail

Just months after Jack Layton's state funeral, an ambitious biopic is already in the works to honour the former NDP leader.

Veteran filmmaker and producer Laszlo Barna of Pier 21 Films was one of thousands of viewers glued to funeral coverage last August for the 61-year-old politician, and said it was the nationwide outpouring of grief that prompted him to call Layton's widow, MP Olivia Chow, to see if she'd give her blessing to a TV movie now in early development.

Chow said she's been besieged with offers from filmmakers wanting to make a documentary about her husband's political journey. She politely put them off – until Barna rang.

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She says she agreed (along with Layton's son Mike and daughter Sarah) to participate in this project because of Barna's record.

"I've seen some of his films, which have a depth, because he treats his subjects with great respect," says Chow, who particularly liked Barna's Force of Nature, about David Suzuki.

"Hopefully, the movie will encourage people who haven't been involved in politics to be less cynical and more willing to participate," she adds. "If we can inspire some young people to do so, that would be perfect."

CBC has an early stage development deal with Barna, contingent on his script. To helm that, he's hired veteran Shelley Eriksen ( Traders, Shania: A Life in Eight Albums) to pen the movie.

"It's early stages," he says. "But we have the ready co-operation of Jack's extended family. And I think the reason they want to do it, is the same reason Olivia and the children stood by, greeting and hugging total strangers, at the viewings of the body. They believe in reciprocating the affection people had for Jack."

Chow says her husband of 22 years, who died Aug. 22 of an undisclosed cancer, was a tireless crusader who proved one person can make a difference.

"And he always went about it in Jack's own way, which in some ways is a fascinating story. Not that I'm biased, of course."

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