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Company Town | REPORT FROM CANNES

Miramax Reigns as the Grand Artiste of Cannes

Film: Weinstein brothers mix Hollywood verve and an eye for quality to stay in the festival limelight.

May 21, 1996|MARK SAYLOR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CANNES, France — It's a long way from Queens to Cannes, but the Weinstein brothers have made the leap.

Based on scrappy marketing of offbeat films, the company that Harvey and Bob Weinstein founded, Miramax, continues to reign as the 800-pound gorilla of the world's most famous film festival. In recent years, the company presented such award-winning entries as "The Crying Game," "The Piano" and "Pulp Fiction."

This year, aside from having six films as festival entries, Miramax's 30 employees here scrambled to acquire rights to several of the most coveted films in competition, sold rights internationally to upcoming films and in between organized half a dozen of the highest-profile parties and events of 1996 Cannes.

The company held the world premiere of "Emma" as a fund-raiser for AmFAR (the American Foundation for AIDS research); the party for "Trainspotting," the British hit Miramax will distribute in the U.S.; and the closing-night dinner following the noncompetition showing of "Flirting With Disaster."

"Cannes has become a real crossroads for Miramax," Harvey Weinstein, the company's colorful co-founder, said as the competition neared its Monday finale.

Weinstein said Cannes is a signature event for Miramax because his company specializes in the kind of films appreciated by the critics and journalists who attend the festival.

The American Film Market in Santa Monica "is better for the commercial market," Weinstein said. "For films with an artistic accent, Cannes is better."

Weinstein was personally involved with several of Miramax's most attention-getting activities of the week, including the AmFAR dinner, which hosted the largest complement of stars during the festival, and the acquisition of "Ridicule," the French-language film that opened the festival to strong critical praise.

Describing the acquisitions business in Cannes, where dozens of companies vie to gain rights to a handful of high-profile films, Weinstein said: "These are the dogfights. . . . It's sort of like the five Mafia families."

The acquisition of "Ridicule" became much talked-about last week when Variety reported that Weinstein had locked PolyGram executive Rainer Gruppe in his hotel suite until he agreed to sell Miramax the U.S. distribution rights.

In an interview, Weinstein said the report was nonsense.

"Can you imagine me locking PolyGram in a room?" he asked. "These guys are big players."

In fact, there were plenty of people attending the festival who could imagine such a thing. Weinstein has gained both admirers and detractors over the years for his tough negotiating style.

But he also has built a reputation for marketing films that aren't typically commercial in the United States.

Miramax handled the marketing of Italian-language "Il Postino" to great success last year, as well as "Like Water for Chocolate," the largest-grossing foreign-language film ever in the U.S. market, as well as "Cinema Paradiso."

This year, with "Ridicule," Weinstein said, he and his lieutenants came up with a presentation for marketing the film in the United States between leaving the screening and meeting the producers at a nearby hotel room.

"We showed our incredible enthusiasm for this movie and probably paid $50,000 more than the next guy," he said.

Miramax also picked up North American rights to "Microcosmos," a beautifully photographed documentary about bugs that generated considerable buzz during the competition.

Rivals criticize Miramax for buying more films than it can possibly distribute effectively. Weinstein chalks up such talk to jealousy.

"We beat the whole town to 'Ridicule' and 'Microcosmos,' " he said. "This is the price of success. I used to have a thin skin about it."

Weinstein said the company will distribute about 32 movies this year, more than virtually any other company. He said he can focus on the key marketing issues for each film and delegate the implementation to the firm's 280 employees.

Miramax is now owned by Walt Disney Co., and last week the Weinsteins extended their contract--under which they run their company with unusual autonomy--for seven more years.

Weinstein said he expects Miramax to make another huge effort at Cannes next year. As for whether the major studios will overshadow it then, at the festival's 50th anniversary, he said he believes Miramax will benefit from anything that focuses more attention in Cannes.

"I hope the studios come back because I want as much excitement as possible here," Weinstein said. "This is the greatest showcase in the world for cinema."

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