It is 15 years since Belgian director Stijn Coninx was Oscar-nominated for his feature Daens in 1992. Now, he is preparing a new feature likely to pique the curiosity of European buyers. La Vie Extraordinaire De Soeur Sourire - to star Cecile De France - will tell the story of Sister Luc-Gabrielle (aka Jeanine Decker), the so-called 'singing nun' and the only Belgian performing artist to have a number one hit in the US.
This summer Coninx has been scouting locations, and a script will be delivered in mid-September. The aim is to shoot the French-Belgian co-production early next year.
Les Films De La Passerelle is making La Vie Extraordinaire in collaboration with lead producer Pathe. Flemish production outfit MMG is also involved.
Sister Luc-Gabrielle's life was a troubled and unhappy one. A Dominican nun, she was encouraged by one of the order's elders to record an album, which went on to achieve widespread commercial success.
A Hollywood film, The Singing Nun, starring Debbie Reynolds, followed but Sister Luc-Gabrielle soon faded into obscurity. Her lesbian lifestyle offended some of her fans, she had drug problems, was hounded over unpaid taxes from her recordings and eventually committed suicide in the mid-1980s.
"The idea is not to make a dark and sad story but to make a love story," says Coninx. "They asked me 15 years ago to make this film. I never wanted to do it because it was always about that dark and sad side."
Coninx points out the film will be based on the early part of Sister Luc-Gabrielle's life, but will not purport to "tell the real, real story". Chris Vander Stappen, whose credits include My Life In Pink, is co-scripting with Ariane Fert. The film-makers have the rights to Dominique, the nun's best-known hit.
Coninx is phlegmatic when discussing his career in the immediate aftermath of his Oscar nomination. "Of course, a lot of doors are opened for you," he says, "but it was not as if suddenly everything was financed."
In the late-1990s, Coninx was living in Los Angeles and planning a $68m studio-backed English-language movie, set to star Robin Williams, about 19th-century priest Father Damien who volunteered to care for lepers on a remote island. To his dismay, he discovered a rival project, Molokai: The Story Of Father Damien, was being developed by Paul Cox, and in the end Cox's was quicker off the ground.
Earlier this year, Coninx completed a feature documentary, To Walk Again, about paralysed Belgian athlete Marc Herremans, who competed in the Iron Man triathlon competition in Hawaii.
The director was then set to shoot another feature this summer, but the financing failed to materialise and Coninx had to withdraw from the project to concentrate on La Vie Extraordinaire.
"You have to be optimistic or you will never shoot a film again," he says of the problems of financing films in Europe.
STIJN CONINX'S CULTURAL LIFE
Film: Bernardo Bertolucci's 1900. It was one of the reasons I made Daens. His way of seeing reality and fiction inspired me a lot. In terms of comedy, I am interested in the dialogue of Woody Allen and the visual humour of Charlie Chaplin.
Music: There are a lot of classical composers I like, such as Mahler and Brahms. In rock and pop, it's Queen and the Rolling Stones.