Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, Sin City, Finding Neverland, Project Runway, The English Patient, Scary Movie, The King’s Speech—the films and television projects on producer Harvey Weinstein’s resumé have reflected, shaped and defined Western pop culture for 30 years.
Cofounder (along with his brother Bob Weinstein) of Miramax and the Weinstein Company, the 60-year-old New York City native has a singular instinct for choosing and nurturing cinematic delights—from art house to grind house—that capture America’s imagination, entertainment dollars and Academy Award consideration.
After running interference on literally hundreds of films, and amassing 303 Academy Award nominations with 75 wins, a lesser human than Harvey Weinstein might turn into an absolute self-serving egomaniac.
Documented instances of Weinstein’s volatility and intransigence are not rare, but neither are indications that, from the beginning, Miramax was guided by a vision that was focused beyond personal gratification and worldly prestige.
Among the first movies the Weinstein brothers released, 1982’s The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, was a documentary of an on-stage charity event for Amnesty International. Considered Miramax’s first hit, The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball raised a load of money for Amnesty and put the human rights organization on the map in the U.S.
“Wow this is a true story! People really do come together! This is not made-up crap.”
Miramax was also the engine behind The Thin Blue Line, a 1988 Errol Morris investigation of the wrongful murder conviction of Randall Dale Adams. The subsequent commutation of Adams’s life sentence is attributed, in part, to Miramax’s The Thin Blue Line.
Along with sharp and twisted fare such as Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, Harvey Weinstein’s upcoming and recent pictures include Bully, a documentary detailing a child who ends a season of schoolyard torment with suicide, and The Intouchables, a French comedy that has raised $400 million worth of laughs internationally while touching on issues of race, class, immigration and physical disability.
Weinstein fielded a call from TakePart to praise The Intouchables, and agreed to hang on the line to talk about the public’s hunger for intelligence in movies, the problem of presenting a film about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to American audiences, and his favorite movies with a cause.
TakePart: You’ve described people coming out of the theater after seeing The Intouchables and feeling euphoric. What triggers that?
Harvey Weinstein: They get triggered because it’s a true story. People love a true story and especially a true story where two people from opposite worlds come together. This is a story about an immigrant, and there are so many of them in France, and an aristocrat, a family that’s been there hundreds of years. These two unlikely people come together and become friends. The immigrant becomes the caretaker for the crippled aristocrat. One guy’s a billionaire; one guy’s penniless, but they both teach each other. And they both learn form each other. But it’s not one of those morality pieces. It’s fun, it’s sexy, there are girls smoking joints…. I mean having a good time. It’s just an award-winning comedy that makes people feel unbelievably good.
TakePart: With films like Bully and The Intouchables, it looks like you’ve shifted or recommitted to movies that have a social justice angle. Do you agree with that assessment?
Harvey Weinstein: I think we’ve always been there, but maybe that commitment is intensified. A movie like The Intouchables just says to people: “Look, there are no differences. When people like this from two opposite worlds come together, it’s time to celebrate.” The Intouchables does it in such an entertaining way that it removes all the barriers; it removes all the prejudices. And Bully on the other hand, it’s a fascinating, intelligently done window into a world that we need to see and deal with. Certainly both pictures deal with those [social awareness] themes.
TakePart: How do you measure the impact of a picture like The Intouchables or Bully?
Harvey Weinstein: Well, I hope that people see The Intouchables, and they remember that America was once an immigrant country and that they feel better about our immigrants here. We’re so distanced from the great immigrations where our grandfathers came from, and so settled into our way of life, we need to remind ourselves. But again, with The Intouchables, if it weren’t so winning and entertaining, it wouldn’t have half the impact. And with Bully, the aim is to educate our teachers and educate our parents not to be silent.
TakePart: Will the English-language remake for The Intouchables still be set in France?
Harvey Weinstein: That will be set in America. Right now, it’s Colin Firth who will play the aristocrat, and it’s directed by Paul Feig, who did Bridesmaids; so there’s going to be a lot of comedy. I want to deal with somebody who comes from another country to the United States and has a family that comes. I don’t care if it’s a black family from Jamaica or a Hispanic family from Mexico. These issues need to be dealt with, but they need to be dealt with in the entertaining way The Intouchables does it. You need to see a movie like that and laugh and go, “Wow this is a true story! People really do come together! This is not made-up crap.” Audiences want to see intelligent movies.
TakePart: Your Julian Schnabel-directed film about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Miral, faced a lot of obstacles on the way to market. Why is it so tough to present intelligent movies about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to American audiences?
Harvey Weinstein: First of all, I think there are some good Israeli movies, but it’s a tough subject matter. It’s so current; it’s like making a movie about a wound because it’s still going on. You know, there are great pieces of literature that haven’t been done yet. Somebody’s got to write the definitive book. Do you know one? If your readers want to tell me about one, I’m interested. I would love to find a novel worthy of that. Not reportage and journalism, but an absolute novel.
TakePart: What are some of your favorite movies with a cause?
Harvey Weinstein: Hmmm. Let’s see. Exodus. Have you ever seen the movie Exodus? It’s about what we just talked about. It’s about a boat, The Olympia, that gets through the British blockade at the founding of Israel. I thought Exodus was a good movie, and it showed the need for Israel and the Jewish state and showed the Holocaust and also in a strange way that Palestinians and Jews have so much in common and that the separation was forced and political. So I always loved that movie. I would say that An Inconvenient Truth is a great example. Our own Fahrenheit 9/11 is a movie along those lines. The Grapes of Wrath is a movie that comes singularly to mind, John Ford’s brilliant movie, which has just got such a strong understanding of what this country is all about. Sullivan’s Travels is probably the best indictment of spoiled rich….
TakePart: I assume you never saw Bully as delivering a big financial impact. What drove you to release the movie, and to go out and push it so hard?
Harvey Weinstein: First of all, I had the benefit of seeing it. I’m the father of four daughters. This is such an important film for them. It’s so moving, and it so touched me as a father that once I stopped crying after I saw it, I wanted to share it with other fathers. Now stories about my temper are semi-legendary; so I always thought it was ironic, that God would lead me in a redemptive way to be the head of that movie. Everybody who was involved kidded around, and I kidded right back. But at the end of the day, when the S hit the fan, it was probably good that we were there with a tougher attitude. I don’t want these kids pushed around, and I don’t want their cause to be bullied either. You know, understanding is the foremost thing. Dealing peacefully is the second most important thing. But there’s got to be a time when, at the same time, you stand up for what you believe in.
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