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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

First Time Fest Tribute to Harvey Weinstein

By Joshua Handler

The third annual First Time Fest came to a close Monday night with an awards ceremony and a special tribute to and conversation with Harvey Weinstein at the Gansevoort Park Avenue NYC. The conversation focused around Weinstein's dedication to championing first-time directors such as Quentin Tarantino, Jim Sheridan, Steven Soderbergh, and Ryan Coogler, among many others. It was full of colorful anecdotes that only someone as accomplished and clever as Weinstein could tell. Below are some of the highlights.

According to Weinstein, he's always been a film lover. He first saw Fran├žois Truffaut's The 400 Blows at a theater that was "off the beaten path" and has been an international cinema fan ever since. 1989 was a breakthrough year for Weinstein when he released Jim Sheridan's My Left Foot through his company, Miramax, which garnered him his first Best Picture nomination. That was also the year that he bought the now-classic Oscar-winner, Giuseppe Tornatore's Cinema Paradiso. At the time, Weinstein said, Vincent Canby, film critic for The New York Times, gave the film a very negative review, which caused theaters to not want to show it. However, Stephen Frears' The Grifters, another Miramax release, was being released at the same time and every theater wanted to show it. Weinstein "made [the theaters] an offer they couldn't refuse" and told them that in order to show The Grifters, they had to show Cinema Paradiso as well. The theaters agreed and Cinema Paradiso became a word-of-mouth hit. Weinstein said that this case showed that the theaters could make a film a hit despite a lack of critical acclaim (something it went on to achieve).

Another favorite anecdote relates to the release of Neil Jordan's The Crying Game. Weinstein marketed the film around its now-famous secret. Walter Isaacson, editor of Time, called Weinstein to tell him that Time was going to publish the secret of the film. Weinstein then hired Gallup to conduct a poll of Time readers and found that 98% of the readers didn't want to know the secret. Weinstein then presented these results to Isaacson who promptly agreed not to publish the secret. When asked about how Weinstein dreams up "tricks" like these, he said, "They're not tricks, they're just passion."

What distinguished this conversation from others, though, is its candidness. Weinstein admitted to having mishandled films in the past, such as George Clooney's Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, which he called a "masterpiece." "I should've done better for [Clooney]," admitted Weinstein. Weinstein expressed disappointment in film companies for not taking the blame for mishandling marketing for a film. He said that he didn't market Mike Newell's Into the West correctly and took out a half-page ad in The New York Times to admit it.

Weinstein is a true visionary who has done more good for first-time directors and independent cinema than just about anyone else in the industry. While certainly a divisive figure, even his biggest opponents cannot deny the extraordinary influence he has had, and continues to have on independent cinema and on new filmmakers.

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