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Friday, September 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lights! Camera! Tear gas! WTO riots to be a movie

Seattle Times staff reporter

Who should be cast?

A WTO movie wouldn't be complete without these characters:

Paul Schell

Paul Schell

Seattle mayor during WTO protests

Norm Stamper

Norm Stamper

Seattle police chief at the time

Pat Davis

Pat Davis

Port commissioner, led effort to bring WTO to Seattle

Ben White

Ben White

led protesters who were costumed as sea turtles

Madeleine Albright

then-secretary of state, protests trapped her in hotel

Tell us who you think should play them in "Battle of Seattle."

Charlize Theron will play a pregnant bystander who loses her baby in Seattle's WTO riots. Susan Sarandon may take the part of a newscaster sympathetic to the protesters.

Former Mayor Paul Schell just hopes the movie re-enacting one of the worst chapters of his political life tells "the whole story about the 21st-century Boston Tea Party."

It's true: Academy Award winner Theron is set to star in a major motion picture about the 1999 anti-globalization protests against the World Trade Organization that rocked Seattle and put our tear-gas-drenched town in an international spotlight.

Written and directed by Theron's boyfriend, Irish actor Stuart Townsend, "Battle in Seattle" is scheduled to start shooting next month — in Vancouver, B.C, where Theron was spotted last weekend nibbling on sushi in a trendy restaurant.

"It's going to be the next 'Sleepless in Seattle,' " said James Keblas, head of Seattle City Hall's film office. "Once you capture a star like Charlize Theron, you are instantly a big picture."

Keblas said he is working hard to get more of the shooting done in Seattle. But industry economics, including cheaper labor and other financial incentives, are driving the production across the border.

Mary Aloe, one of the film's producers, said "Battle in Seattle" will be an independent film with a budget under $10 million. The crew may spend a week shooting in Seattle, Aloe said, and Townsend hopes to use real WTO protesters as extras.

Aloe compared it to last year's Oscar-winning "Crash," in that the script will weave together the stories of an ensemble cast while dealing with serious issues.

"The lead characters run from protesters to pedestrians to police to politicians," Aloe said. "We did not want to give one point of view. When you see the movie, you'll feel a lot of gray areas. It's neither sympathetic or unsympathetic to protesters and police."

Theron's character is "really the voice of an outsider and the most relatable role for the audience because she didn't have any agenda as a protester or political leader," Aloe added.

Theron won the Best Actress Oscar for depicting a prostitute-turned-killer in the 2003 movie "Monster." She recently played a mineworker in "North Country."

In 1999, tens of thousands of activists halted the WTO's first ministerial meeting on U.S. soil. For five days, protests and the police response, including pepper spray and tear gas, dominated local news and brought downtown to a virtual standstill.

Political fallout from the event played a part in the resignation of former Police Chief Norm Stamper and the ouster of Schell, who failed to win re-election in 2001.

The film will explore the "power of the individual" in the face of powerful governments and global corporations, Townsend told The Observer, a British newspaper. He said he was drawn to the WTO protest because it "considers a lot of issues that were diffused somewhat by 9/11."

News of the film prompted jokes and anxiety among those close to the events.

John Sellers, who was then executive director of the Ruckus Society, one of the key organizers of the protests, said he'd like to be played by John Malkovich. City Council President Nick Licata said he'd advise Theron and offered up his personal cellphone number — with his wife's permission.

Schell had no comment on who should play him in the movie, but his wife suggested Robert Redford.

Schell, Sellers and local historian Walt Crowley all expressed concerns about how Hollywood would characterize the "Battle in Seattle."

For all the drama and conflict surrounding WTO, Schell noted that no one was hospitalized, and he said the media overplayed the role of rowdy anarchists from Oregon and "some police overreactions."

Crowley said he was concerned a movie will "overdramatize the berserkers who eclipsed the fact that 40,000 people marched peacefully to register serious concerns about globalization."

Sellers said he hopes the moviemakers give a thoughtful portrayal of protesters.

"I think the temptation will be to have the riot scenes be very provocative and sexy, and I was in the middle of them and they were extremely exciting, but they were without a doubt brought on by the Seattle Police Department. Except for 50 scary-looking kids from Oregon, the other 50,000 behaved in a real principled and disciplined way," Sellers said.

Theron's agent did not return a call, nor did Townsend's manager.

"I think it's going to be real difficult in two hours to do a movie that makes any sense," Licata said. "I'm sure the movie will never touch on the 16 to 20 hours of public testimony we heard afterwards. Man, that was gruesome."

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or byoung@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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