For the first time in three decades, disgraced independent film mogul Harvey Weinstein won’t be at the Sundance Film Festival which kicks off Thursday in Park City, Utah. Yet the spectre of Weinstein, who has faced a slew of sexual abuse allegations, will loom large over Sundance, the biggest independent movie festival in the U.S.
‘The industry is breathing a collective sigh of relief that Harvey won’t be there.’
Sundance is addressing the #MeToo movement, that has arisen following the sexual misconduct allegations made against Weinstein and others. Actress Jane Fonda, lawyer Gloria Allred, singer Common and “Hamilton” actor Daveed Diggs are planning to speak at Saturday’s Sundance 2018’s Respect Rally that seeks “to demonstrate and voice our respect for all ethnicities, religions, genders, political and sexual orientations.”
“We’re not shying away from these discussions and we’re taking them on in panels and events and looking at our own ways of creating a safe and healthy environment for this festival,” said John Cooper, director of the Sundance Film Festival. “It gives us the opportunity to confront what this industry is like. The paradigm is shifting but it has to shift and it’s good for us all.”
Jane Fonda, Gloria Allred and Common will speak at Sundance’s Respect Rally.
Historically Weinstein’s aggressive dealmaking approach came to be associated with Sundance. He snapped up Sundance festival sensations such as Steven Soderbergh’s breakout hit “Sex, Lies and Videotape” for his company Miramax in 1989 and Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut movie “Reservoir Dogs”.
According to Peter Biskind’s book, “Down and Dirty Pictures,” he allegedly exhibited bullying behavior at the festival such as the time in 1996 he got into a brawl with movie executive Jonathan Taplin over Miramax missing the rights to the music biopic “Shine”, reportedly shouting at him, “You’re gonna need more lawyers than this because I’m gonna cut you a new ***hole.”
In the Sundance-themed episode of the second series of HBO’s
hit Hollywood comedy “Entourage”, an obese mogul called Harvey Weingard, played by Murray Chaukin, who unsuccessfully tried to buy hero Vincent Chase’s independent movie at the festival, bore close resemblance to Weinstein.
‘In the early days, Harvey had a hold on Sundance, but when rival studios like Focus Features and Sony Pictures Classics started to come in, he got more in the idea of owning Cannes.’
More seriously, actresses Rose McGowan and Louisette Geiss specifically accused Weinstein of sexual assault, assaults that took place at previous Sundance festivals.“The industry is breathing a collective sigh of relief that Harvey won’t be there,” says a producer speaking on condition of anonymity.
“He always made plenty of noise but if you consider recent high profile Sundance acquisitions like “Brooklyn” and “The Birth of a Nation”, Weinstein was never in the running to buy up those movies for release.”
Emmy-winning screenwriter Jake Jacobson recalls sitting next to Weinstein at a premiere screening of erotic drama “Blue Valentine”, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. “As the movie began he grabbed my left thigh for ballast and flopped into the seat,” Jacobson recalled. “He was leaning on me for ten minutes and then he said “This is boring as s***! I’m outta here” and left.”
“After the film I went to the press office and on the bulletin board in huge chalk letters was written, ‘Weinstein Company buys Blue Valentine for $2.1 million.’”
Cynthia Parsons McDaniel, former vice president of Gramercy Pictures, said, “In the early days, Harvey had a hold on Sundance but when rival studios like Focus Features and Sony Pictures Classics
started to come in, he got more in the idea of owning Cannes.”
The Sundance Film Festival was founded by Robert Redford and is a program of the Sundance Institute, of which the veteran actor-activist is president. The Sundance Institute estimated that the 2017 Sundance Film Festival generated a total economic impact of $151.5 million.
Some of the most commercially successful independent movies of all time, such as “The Blair Witch Project” and ”Little Miss Sunshine” were picked up for release by studios after premiering at Sundance. But in the last decade, some expensive Sundance high-profile acquisitions have underperformed at the box office.
“Hamlet 2”, bought by Focus Features for $10 million in 2008 wound up grossing half that amount. In 2016, Nate Parker’s movie “The Birth of a Nation” was bought by Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million, the largest deal at Sundance to date, following a rapturous reception at the festival. Yet the film made just $15.8 million at the US box office, its release overshadowed by controversy over rape allegations against Parker of which he was acquitted.
‘Unknown directors go to Sundance to use their films to build up a career for themselves, and that’s only been reinforced by the number of digital streaming companies entering the fray.’
“With a really hot movie, Sundance can still be an effective platform for a bidding war,” said Cynthia Parsons McDaniel. “But it’s also an investment in unknown directors. For instance, when I was at New Line Cinema in the early 1990s, we found David O. Russell there. Unknown directors go to Sundance to use their films to build up a career for themselves, and that’s only been reinforced by the number of digital streaming companies entering the fray.”
Movies expected to be snapped up for high sums at this year’s Sundance festival include “Wildlife”, actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut based on a Richard Ford novel, espionage thriller “The Catcher Was a Spy” starring Paul Rudd and Jeff Daniels, Idris Elba’s directorial debut “Yardie” and 19th-century murder mystery “Lizzie” featuring Kristen Stewart and Chloe Sevigny.
Daniel Crown, co-founder of New York-based production company Red Crown, whose previous credits include “Beasts of No Nation”, is optimistic about Sundance amidst a time of digital upheaval and uncertainty in the movie business.
This year Crown is hopeful of securing a distribution deal at Sundance for his new movie “Monster”, starring Jennifer Hudson and Kelvin Harrison Jr., which is based on a true story of a 17-year-old honors student charged with felony murder for a crime he says he did not commit.
Crown said, “With Netflix
and Hulu out there, it allows producers to breathe a little easier that there isn’t just one path available for them to take. So it’s as healthy and robust a [film] market as I’ve ever seen.”
As for Weinstein not being at Sundance, Crown said: “Harvey was clearly beyond instrumental in what he did for independent film in America. But there are a lot of great new companies that have started up in the last few years and it gives them a new opportunity to move up in the line.”