UNSPOOLED: Lucas Supports ‘Water’-Logged Director

If director Deepa Mehta is down in the dumps these days, who can blame her? Not only have protesters shut down production of her new movie, “Water,” on location in India — they’ve threatened to kill and burn her in effigy.

George Lucas to the rescue.

In today’s Daily Variety, the “Star Wars” creator springs for a full-page ad in the trade newspaper, declaring: “Our heart is with Deepa Mehta … in her current struggles to film ‘Water.’ Keep fighting, Deepa!”

The note was signed by Lucas, partner Rick McCallum “and all your friends at Lucasfilm Ltd.”

So what’s the LucasMehta connection? Mehta directed one episode of the Lucasfilm-produced “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” TV series in the early 1990s, as well as a segment of the 1996 TV-movie “Young Indiana Jones and Travels With Father.”

Lucas and McCallum “like her and fully support” Mehta, a Lucasfilm rep told Hollywood.com today.

Last week, 20,000 Hindu protesters destroyed sets for Mehta‘s movie in Varanasi, India, causing an estimated $700,000 damage. Although Mehta‘s production has been approved by the appropriate government officials, police have done little to stop the vandalism and Mehta has been meeting with government representatives in hopes of restoring the peace.

Before production on the film could get under way, the demonstrators — who are aligned with the Hindu nationalist government — stormed the set to protest purported distortions of old-school Indian values in the movie. Then, they occupied the sets, refusing to leave.

“Water” is the third film of a planned trilogy, telling the story of a 1930s love affair between an upper-class widow and a lower-class man. It’s a story that some Indians apparently find offensive. Mehta‘s first two movies in the trilogy, “Fire” and “Earth,” also dealt with social taboos such as lesbianism and religious persecution. “Fire” caused riots in India when it was released.

Last week, Mehta, a native of India who has lived in Canada since the 1970s, told the Toronto Star that she might quit making movies in India.

“It’s getting too hard. I’m not the most popular person in India,” she said.

Of course, there are those encouraging words from George Lucas: “Keep fighting, Deepa!”

Then again, the protesters probably don’t read Daily Variety.

KA-CHING! Sundance entry “Love and Sex,” starring “Swingers” alum Jon Favreau, has been picked up by Lions Gate Films, today’s Variety reports. It’s the company’s third Sundance purchase, after the doc “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” and the audience award winner, “Two Family House.”

LIFE’S A ‘BLAIR WITCH’: They say that people forget their friends when they become rich and famous. Sam Barber was so upset that his “Blair Witch Project” colleagues forgot him — or so he says — that he filed a lawsuit claiming he was robbed of executive producer credit on the film. This week, a judge ruled that Barber’s suit, which alleges that the filmmakers and Artisan Entertainment violated federal unfair competition laws, should proceed in court.

Barber has sued Artisan and “Blair Witch” creators Daniel Myrick and Gregg Hale, claiming that the movie was originally developed in 1996 at Barber’s production company in Orlando, Florida. Barber claims he invested thousands into the picture, prepared the treatment and investor package and shot a theatrical trailer. He says the parties agreed they would all be partners, but Myrick and Hale later froze him out when they sold the movie to Artisan.

The lawsuit was filed before the film was released last summer and went on to make $140 million at the box office. It’s one of two “Blair Witch” battles currently being fought in court: On Monday, Artisan filed suit against the UA Theaters chain, claiming it has failed to pay $3 million in “Blair Witch” licensing fees.

FILM FEST: If you’re in Los Angeles this week, check out the 8th Annual Pan African Film & Art Festival, running today through Feb. 21 at the Magic Johnson Theatres and the adjacent Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. For movie schedule and more info: (818) 890-2428.