It’s been nearly three decades since the last time disgraced independent film mogul Harvey Weinstein hasn’t been at the Sundance Film Festival. Kicking off last night in Park City, Utah, the shadow of Weinstein will loom mightily over the biggest independent movie festival in the U.S.
It has been reported that Sundance will be addressing the #MeToo movement that has taken charge following the slew of sexual misconduct allegations made against Weinstein and many others. Actress Jane Fonda, singer Common, lawyer Gloria Allred, and “Hamilton” actor Daveed Diggs are supposedly speaking at Saturday’s Respect Rally which seeks “to demonstrate and voice our respect for all ethnicities, genders, religions, and sexual orientations.”
“We’re not shying away from these discussions and we’re taking them head-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 Sundance. “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.”
Weinstein’s aggressive deal-making methods came to be associated with Sundance early on in his career. To think, the words Weinstein and aggressive were once words used in sentences that gave this gross piece of shit praise – As he famously snagged festival sensations like Steven Soderbergh’s 1989 breakout hit Sex, Lies and Videotape as well as Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut movie Reservoir Dogs.
In 1996 he infamously showcased his bullying/asshole tendencies as he reportedly got into a brawl with movie executive Jonathan Taplin over his company Miramax missing the rights to the music biopic Shine. As the story goes, good ol’ Harvey was acting violent while screaming “You’re gonna need more lawyers than this… because I’m gonna cut you a new asshole.”
First of all, two things. It’s evident this guy has been a complete fucking clown for at MINIMUM the amount of years I’ve been alive. I’m twenty-five mind you. And also, Not to make light of this awful human being and his actions…but, the dude has been morbidly obese and grossly out of shape since literally fucking forever. I don’t know Jonathan Taplin, but I got to think he wasn’t all too scared. Goes to show, though, what kind of power trip this fucking guy was on.
But on a very serious note, it was actresses Rose McGowan and Louisette Geiss who specifically accused Weinstein of sexual assaults AT Sundance festivals in years past. “The industry is breathing a collective sigh of relief that Harvey won’t be here this year”, says a director friend of mine… speaking on the condition of remaining anonymous.
“He certainly always made plenty of noise, but if you consider recent high profile Sundance acquisitions such as Brooklyn and The Birth of a Nation, Weinstein was never in the running to purchase those movies for release.”
Emmy-winning screenwriter Jake Jacobson recently recalled 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 for Vanity Fair. “As the movie began, he grabbed my left thigh and flopped into the seat,” Jacobson said “He was leaning on me for ten minutes and then he said “This is boring as shit! 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.'”
The Sundance Film Festival was of course, founded by the great Robert Redford – And he recently has said that the 2017 Festival generated a total economic impact of $151.5 million. Which, if I’m going to be completely honest…seems like an outrageous number, but I’ll leave the math to the likes of Harvard janitors – who have psychiatrists that resemble Robin Williams.
Many of the most commercially successful indie films 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, there have certainly been a fair share of expensive high-profile acquisitions which have under-performed at the box office.
Hamlet 2, bought by Focus Features for $10 million in 2008 barely grossed 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 in Sundance history, following an ecstatic reception at the festival. Yet the film made just $16 million at the US box office, as its release was overshadowed by controversy involving rape allegations against Parker… of which he was acquitted.
With a really hot movie, there is no doubt Sundance can still be an effective platform for a bidding war, but you got to remember, it’s also an investment in unknown directors. How often do the likes of Tarantino, Soderbergh, or an O’Russell come around? Eh, probably a handful of times per 8-10 years…at best. Remember, each year at Sundance around 100 movies premiere – it’s not as if even 10% of the films will end up being a hit. Unknown directors go to Sundance to use their films in hopes of building a career for themselves, and that’s only been reinforced by the vast variety of digital streaming companies entering into the fray.
This year, some of the movies anticipating to be snapped up for a high sum 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.
As one of the earliest and biggest events in the annual film industry calendar, the 2018 Sundance Film Festival will set the tone for the year ahead. This time though, that tone will be a bit different from previous years. With the #MeToo movement deservingly front and center, and that gross fuck nowhere to be found, this new tone has the chance to also be the start of a new era.
BY FLICK FANS