Sundance 2010: How (and why) Harvey Weinstein got back in the festival game
The Weinstein Co. made one of the smarter plays at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, picking up two films that are pretty much right in its sweet spot (and which happen to pretty good too).
"Blue Valentine," the Ryan Gosling-Michelle Williams marital drama that's been dazzling many, now sits in the house of Harvey, as does "The Tillman Story," Amir Bar-Lev's damning account of the U.S military's exploitation of the Pat Tillman death. (The Weinstein Co. bought theatrical rights in North America and satellite rights in Asia for "Blue Valentine"; the rights situation on "Tillman" hasn't yet been disclosed). It's the first time the company has made deals for multiple movies at the same festival since the 2007 edition of Sundance.
There are certainly back-story reasons behind the moves. For one thing, the Weinstein Co.'s acquisitions division has been charged up now that Peter Lawson, the executive who made some sharp buys for the new (now old) Miramax these last few years, has come on board, working with Harvey and the company's David Glasser. And after the usual lag as profits have been spread around, the studio has collected its "Inglourious Basterds" windfall (not that either of these pick-ups will necessarily demand huge marketing spends -- they're both word-of-mouth- and press-driven campaigns).
But there's also a savvy strategic endgame here. "Blue Valentine" is the consummate awards contender -- it offers the possibility of pitching both a lead male and female, as well as the filmmakers, particularly director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance, who developed the script for years and is said to have written more than 60 drafts of the script before the Incentive film fund and WME kick-started it last spring. With the low seven-figure purchase, Harvey's able to get in the awards game relatively cheaply -- a lot more cheaply than he would making an awards movie from scratch.
As for "Tillman," it seems pretty clear what the campaign will be for Weinstein, the architect of the "Fahrenheit 9/11" bonanza -- work the political angle. The film doles out plenty of blame across many levels of the U.S. military (though it's also a touching and complex portrait of a misunderstood man and soldier). Longtime Harvey collaborator Michael Moore was present at the premiere last Saturday, telling us it was "one of the most important films you'll ever see about the U.S. military." We wouldn't be surprised to see Moore out there flogging the film.
Elsewhere, the sales climate seemed to pick up at the more micro-budget and service-deal end of the spectrum in the last few days. A book publisher called Hannover House picked up Joel Schumacher's young-people-partying feature, "Twelve," which it will release with the help of indie veteran Tom Ortenberg, while Newmarket will distribute offbeat Joseph Gordon-Levitt dramedy "Hesher." Paradoxically, the indie buyers who have been most active amid the doldrums of the last few festivals -- particularly IFC and Sony Pictures Classics -- have yet to make a purchase at this year's Sundance, though "Catfish," "Exit Through the Gift Shop" and "The Romantics" could be among the movies they and others of their ilk pick up in the coming days.
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photos: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine," and Pat Tillman in "The Tillman Story." Credit: Sundance Film Festival