“The Heist,” the true story of the theft of Willem de Kooning’s iconic “Woman-Ochre” from an Arizona art museum, is in the works from “The Love Bugs” director Allison Otto. Nonfiction studio XTR will back the new documentary in partnership with
Roots Productions’ Jill Howerton and Josh Kunau, the team behind “Biggest Little Farm,” Museum + Crane’s Caryn Capotosto, the maker of “Won’t You Be My Neighbor. Mark Monroe, writer of the Academy Award winning films “Icarus” and “The Cove,” penned the screenplay.
It’s easy to see why that caliber of talent was attracted to the story. The day after Thanksgiving, 1985, one of de Kooning’s most famous paintings was sliced from its frame and stolen from the walls of the museum where it was housed. The painting was originally acquired from de Kooning by Edward Joseph Gallagher Jr., a collector who later donated it to the University of Arizona Museum of Art in 1957, where it was considered a star piece within a growing collection of modern masterworks. Although a museum security guard witnessed the suspected thieves on the day of the heist, he was unable to catch them, and despite his detailed description to authorities, they were never apprehended.
In a shocking twist, the painting was discovered 32 years later in 2017 in the home of Jerry and Rita Alter, hidden behind their bedroom door in a cheap gold frame. The Alters, two mild-mannered and recently deceased school teachers from rural New Mexico, closely resembled the original police sketch of the suspects.
“The theft of Woman Ochre was one of the most intriguing art crimes of a generation,” Otto said. “As our team dug deep into the tale, we discovered that the theft itself is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface lies a perfect storm of eccentric characters, bizarre synchronicities, and outlandish motivations–all of which are drawn together by the irresistible power of ‘Woman Ochre.’ We are so honored to partner with XTR to share this quirky, mind-bending tale.”
Founded by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Bryn Mooser, XTR has invested in over 40 documentaries including “You Cannot Kill David Arquette,” “76 Days,” and “The Fight.”
“I remember reading about this story when ‘Woman Ochre’ was found a few years ago and thinking, ‘This should be a documentary.’ It’s the perfect mix of small town mystery meets fine art world international incident,” said Kathryn Everett, head of film at XTR. “We are proud to be working with an absolute powerhouse team on this film and can’t wait to show audiences what stranger than fiction shenanigans unfold.”
“The Heist” is executive produced by Everett, Mooser and Justin Lacob for XTR, and produced by Capotosto, Howerton, and Kunau.