Laurence Fishburne will direct, star and produce in a $60m-plus adaptation of Paulo Coelho's international bestseller The Alchemist for The Weinstein Company (TWC).

TWC International chief Glen Basner will commence pre-sales here on the acclaimed story of an Andalusian shepherd's search for truth that takes him across vast stretches of Africa.

Harvey Weinstein is in talks with an Oscar winning writer to adapt the screenplay and said he would conduct a worldwide search for the roles of the shepherd Santiago and the love of his life Fatima. Fishburne will portray the titular mystic who teaches Santiago the meaning of life.

Weinstein will personally produce the project, a rare step for him, after acquiring worldwide rights last week. The property had been in turnaround for years and Warner Bros relinquished rights six years ago.

Paradigm Motion Picture Finance Group packaged with Fishburne's manager Helen Sugland and attorneys Nina Shaw and Jeff Finkelstein. The agency represents Fishburne.

'Over the years I've been very lucky with that [films coming out of turnaround],' Weinstein said, noting that Shakespeare In Love was originally set up at Universal before Miramax acquired rights and that Shanghai, which is currently shooting in London, had initially been at Sony.

'And one way or another I'm finding a role for Penelope Cruz in this movie,' Weinstein told a press conference yesterday morning, adding that the star of Woody Allen's out of competition screener Vicky Cristina Barcelona would play a smaller role.

Scouting is underway in Spain, Jordan, Abu Dhabi, the Middle East and Northern Africa for a late spring or early summer 2009 shoot. 'I hope this will act as a bridge to the Middle East,' Weinstein said. 'This is a part of the world we need to know more about and extend a bridge to. It could be a healer and bring the West and the East, particularly the Middle East, together.'

'This is a special project that now has a special team behind it to ensure that its path to the big screen is handled with the proper care it deserves,' Fishburne said. I am looking forward to directing it, acting in it, and collaborating with Harvey Weinstein to produce a beautiful film that will do justice to Paulo's enormously successful novel.'

'I am very happy that my book will be filmed in the way I intended it to be and I hope the spirit and simplicity of my work will be preserved,' Coelho said. 'I am excited my friend Laurence Fishburne and Harvey Weinstein will be working together.'