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THE BOOK THIEF

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Based on the beloved bestselling novel, THE BOOK THIEF tells the inspiring story of a spirited and courageous young girl named Liesel, who transforms the lives of everyone around her when she is sent to live with a foster family in World War II Germany.

For Liesel, the power of words and of imagination becomes a means of escape -- and even joy -- from the tumultuous events enveloping her and everyone she knows and loves. She is THE BOOK THIEF's heart and soul.

Indeed, it is heart and soul -- as well as triumph and perseverance -- that drive the film, which is rich in themes and characters that will resonate for every generation. A moving and poignant portrait of the resiliency of the human spirit, this life-affirming tale contrasts innocence (as embodied by Liesel) with the pervasive tyranny that marked the times and her homeland.

The story and its characters sprang from the imagination of author Markus Zusak whose novel The Book Thief was published in his native Australia in 2005 and throughout the rest of the world in 2006. The book has sold eight million copies worldwide, held a place on The New York Times seller list for almost seven years and has been translated into over 30 languages. Additionally, it has won over a dozen literary awards, held the number-one position at Amazon.com, and appeared on numerous best-of-the-year lists.

Zusak's book and director Brian Percival's (Downton Abbey) film adaptation tell the story of Liesel (Sophie Nelisse), who is sent to live with foster parents, the kind-hearted Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush) and his prickly wife Rosa (Emily Watson). Reeling from the tragic death of her younger brother only days before and timid around the new "parents" she's just met, Liesel struggles to fit in -- at home and at school, where her classmates taunt her as "dummkopf" due to her inability to read.

With the single-minded obsession of a budding scholar, Liesel is determined to change that. And she gets help. Her empathetic "Papa," Hans works day and night with Liesel as she pores over her first tome, The Gravedigger's Handbook, she walked off with following her brother's funeral -- an impulsive act of thievery that will have profound consequences for the young heroine.

Liesel's love for reading and her growing appreciation for her new family are heightened when she befriends a new guest in the Hubermann's home -- a Jewish refugee named Max (Ben Schnetzer), who shares her passion for books and encourages Liesel to expand her powers of observation, even as he hides from the Nazis in a dark and dank basement. Equally transformative is her burgeoning friendship with a young neighbor, Rudy (Nico Liersch), who teases Liesel about her book thievery even as he finds himself falling in love with her.

These friendships, along with her exponentially growing love of books provide both an escape and a pathway to shaping Liesel's destiny. She comes to appreciate not only the power of words, but a power beyond words.

Author Markus Zusak says he was inspired to write the book by stories told to him by his parents when he was a young boy in Australia. "It was like a piece of Europe came into our kitchen when my mom and dad told tales about growing up in Germany and Austria, the bombings of Munich, and about the prisoners the Nazis marched through the streets," says the author. "I didn't realize it at the time but those stories led me to want to become a writer.

"It was a time of extreme danger and evil and I was inspired by the acts of kindness during these very dark times," Zusak continues. "That's what THE BOOK THIEF is about: finding beauty in even the ugliest of circumstances. One of the central themes of the story is that Hitler is destroying people with his words, and Liesel is stealing back the words, and she's writing her own story with them."

The novel's scope and its triumphant young heroine drew the attention of producers Karen Rosenfelt and Ken Blancato, who since its publication have worked to bring it the big screen. "I couldn't put the book down," says Rosenfelt. "It was so life affirming. I was struck by how Markus brought Liesel to life, and by her fortitude, strength, abilities and hunger to read and understand the power of words."

During the rise of the Nazi Party, freedom of expression was severely curtailed. Books were being burned. "The German people were being told what to feel, what to think, and what to read," says Rosenfelt. "In spite of these seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Liesel, by learning to read, is empowered to be creative, think on her own, and not parrot the ideas of others.">{? A big step forward in the film's development was the hiring of screenwriter Michael Petroni (The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader) to adapt Zusak's 580-page tome. When he was approached to write the screenplay, Petroni was already, he says, "a great fan of the novel."

"Markus Zusak has a prodigious talent," Petroni continues. "He has written a book that will be remembered as a classic. So, in adapting it to the screen, I first had to overcome my intimidation. The greatest challenge was choosing what to eliminate. It is a virtual treasure trove of wonderfully touching scenes, which is what drew me to the material in the first place."

There were several other challenges to be met. Petroni adds: "The book is written out of chronological order, with the narrator often intriguing the reader with tidbits of information that later play back into the story. My first job was to unravel it chronologically and then restructure scenes to have the most dramatic impact for a movie. This meant having to sometimes alter the chronology of the book; I doubt people will notice but these kinds of changes are always tricky to accomplish. I'm honored that Markus trusted me with his book."

Petroni says what resonated most with him, apart from the story's inventiveness, was that THE BOOK THIEF is a testament to endurance. "It speaks to the strength of spirit in the human condition which every individual can relate to and be inspired by. And of course, it is about the power of words. What writer can resist that?"

As Petroni continued to fine-tune the screenplay, the search for a director began. "Based on Brian Percival's extraordinary work in British television and his passion for this project, we were very eager to meet with him," says Elizabeth Gabler, president of Fox 2000 Pictures. "Brian came to the meeting with a book he had created, consisting of imagery that depicted his vision for the film, and we were elated to have found the perfect director."

Zusak had the opportunity to meet with Percival early in the process, and immediately sparked to the filmmaker. "After our meeting, as we said our goodbyes, Brian pulled me a bit closer and said: 'I'm not going to let you down,'" remembers the author. "And I loved the integrity of that moment and how genuine Brian was."

With Downton Abbey's global success, Percival was a much sought after director. "At one point there were five scripts a day coming in and it was impossible to read them all," he says, "so I would read the first 30 pages of each script and I'd know if it was a project of interest." Percival says he was just a few pages into The Book Thief he knew he had to make the film. "I was so moved by the novel. It is such a positive, uplifting story, and I loved that the central character was a young lady who, though she has nothing and seemingly no future when we meet her, could not only survive but thrive."

Moreover, Percival personally connected to the story. "I come from quite a poor background. We started out with very little, and the desire was always to try and achieve something, which, in my case, was to make films. Later when I went to art school I remember how people taught me to look, particularly through books, at the world in a different way and so consequently live life in a different way. I related to Liesel in these ways."

Percival also embraced the idea that power of words can both destroy and heal, depending on how we use them. It's a theme that runs through the story. "Liesel begins to understand words and their power, and she realizes that you can use words for good as well as for evil," he explains. "This allows her to change her life and make choices that she would not have had before she picked up a book. That's the key to her spirit."

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