Lionsgate today confirmed it will handle the North American release of Machine Gun Preacher, the real-life action story that was a marquee title for the company’s international sales division in Cannes.

Principal photography is set for July 5 in Detroit before moving to South Africa. Lionsgate plans to release the film in autumn 2011.

Marc Forster will direct Gerard Butler as the former biker known as Reverend Sam Childers who recruits a mercenary army to save children from African war zones.

Michelle Monaghan, Michael Shannon, Madeline Carroll, Kathy Baker and Souleymane Sy Savane round out the key cast. Jason Keller wrote the screenplay.

Forster will produce through his Apparatus company alongside Robbie Brenner, as well as Gary Safady and Craig Chapman of Kaushi Entertainment, and Deborah Giarratana of GG Filmz.

Myles Nestel of Merlina Entertainment is executive producer alongside Brad Simpson of Apparatus, Butler, Alan Siegel and Louise Rosner. 

Machine Gun Preacher combines a fascinating, action-packed story and unique characters with great talent on both sides of the camera,” Lionsgate’s production president Mike Paseornek said.

“We’re delighted to be back in business with our friend Marc, one of the most gifted and versatile film-makers working today. And Gerard Butler is the ideal actor to capture the strength, complexity and charisma of this film’s real-life hero, Sam Childers.”

Lionsgate’s senior executive vice-president of the motion picture group Rob McEntegart negotiated the deal with Merlina Entertainment’s Nestel on behalf of the film-makers. 

Forster, Keller, Butler and Shannon are represented by CAA. Forster and Keller are represented by Guymon Casady of Management 360. Forster is represented by attorney Linda Lichter of Lichter, Grossman, Nichols, Adler & Feldman.