Angelina Jolie continues directing streak with elephant poaching drama ‘Africa’

Angelina Jolie refuses to luxuriate in the Oscar buzz surrounding her upcoming WWII drama 'Unbroken.' On Sept. 8, the actress-turned-director started on her third feature, 'By the Sea,' a romantic drama touting her first self-directed leading role and her first pairing with husband Brad Pitt since 2005's “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”. Showing no sign of slowing down, word is in that Jolie's fourth film has taken shape.

According to Deadline, Jolie has signed on to helm “Africa,” a drama based on paleo-archaeologist Richard Leakey”s fight against ivory poachers in Kenya. Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) wrote the script, which Jolie plans to shoot soon after wrapping “By the Sea.” David Ellison”s Skydance Productions, known for blockbusters like the “Mission: Impossible” series and the upcoming “Terminator: Genisys” trilogy, is behind the picture.

“I've felt a deep connection to Africa and its culture for much of my life, and was taken with Eric's beautiful script about a man drawn into the violent conflict with elephant poachers who emerged with a deeper understanding of man”s footprint and a profound sense of responsibility for the world around him,” Jolie said in an official announcement.

Leakey's story fits cozily between Jolie's taste for the historical (“Unbroken” is a similar global biopic) and the socially aware (Jolie's debut feature, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” shed light on the Bosnian War's gory details). In 1989, after years of research work in Kenya, Leakey was made head of the country's Wildlife Conservation and Management Department where he combated elephant poachers. In the position, the paleo-archaeologist outfitted anti-poaching units with weaponry and instructions to shoot poachers on site. His men burned millions of pounds' worth of stockpiled ivory during his tenure. The tactics dramatically increased the number of elephants in Kenya – but at a cost. Though suspected as sabotage but never proven, a 1993 plane crash crushed both of Leakey's lower legs, both of which were amputated. Needless to say, there's a lot for Jolie to dig into with this one. 

The announcement is the end of a long journey for Roth, who has been sitting on “Africa” for years. When our own Kris Tapley spoke to Roth for a 2006 New York “Times” piece on the writer's percolating projects, the author described the awe of meeting Leakey. “I thought, ‘This is the most charismatic man I”ve ever met.” He has no legs. He lost them when his plane was sabotaged. But he”s an interesting, sort of narcissistic guy.” Roth isn't the first person to be enamored by the conservationist's story; National Geographic and PBS aired a documentary about Leakey's life entitled “Bones of Turkana,” which you can watch here

Before getting started on “Africa,” Jolie will wrap “By The Sea” for Universal and see the release of “Unbroken,” which arrives in theaters on Dec. 25.