Susan Sarandon is in final talks to star in the drama A Whale In Montana for Powerhouse Entertainment, the multimedia outfit headed up by Franchise Pictures co-founder Andrew Stevens that is making its AFM debut this year.

Whale In Montana centres on a widowed, small town doctor whose life is transformed by the appearance of a mysterious stranger. The project will be directed by George Hickenlooper, whose credits include The Man From Elysian Fields. Stevens will producer with Donald Zuckerman and Andrew Pheffer, with production due to begin in Canada on May 19.

'This is something Susan Sarandon has loved and wanted to do for some time,' Stevens said. 'It's a lovely story that deals with a lot of emotional conflicts between a female doctor in a small town. I'm thrilled to be involved. It's a very high-calibre piece of material and talent all round.'

In a separate announcement, Powerhouse and Santa Barbara Filmed Entertainment have agreed to jointly produce the period drama Doctor Lopez with Il Postino director Michael Radford set to direct. The story is about an exiled Portuguese Jew who becomes embroiled in court politics when he is appointed personal physician to Queen Elizabeth I. Production is expected to start in the fourth quarter.

Powerhouse's AFM slate features thrillers Dead Fish and The Good Shepherd and the animated feature Little Big Feet. The company aims to produce live action features, video and TV, animated TV, direct-to-video/DVD animated series and features and a range of interactive games.