Although it is a Merchant Ivory film, The Ballad of the Sad Café, from the 1951 novella by Carson McCullers, is a project Merchant pursued apart from his collaboration with Ivory and Jhabvala, as he had done from time to time in the past. The inspiration for it came to him as early as 1972 when his friend Anthony Korner gave him a copy of the book to read. Merchant was impressed by it, but after inquiring into the rights, learned that they had been given by the McCullers estate to Edward Albee, who had adapted the story as a Broadway play in 1962. He also discovered that the play and the rights to the story had merged. Years passed while Albee waited for an interest in the property from a Hollywood studio; but none materialized, and in 1988 Merchant acquired an option. By then he had already discussed the project with Vanessa Redgrave, who admired the work and was interested in taking on the challenging role of Miss Amelia. Financing for the $3.5 million project proved extraordinarily difficult to obtain, but was finally underwritten, in part, by England's Channel Four television, Curzon Films, and Joseph Saleh's Angelika Films. The film had its World Premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February, 1991.