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Miramax Chiefs Form Separate Firm to Buy Controversial Film

April 08, 1999|AMY WALLACE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Miramax co-founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein are forming a personally owned corporation to buy worldwide distribution rights to director Kevin Smith's soon-to-be-completed religious satire, "Dogma," which has already drawn fire from church groups.

A source familiar with the deal said the brothers will buy the negative and film rights for about $11 million. They plan to sell domestic distribution rights to a third party and to work with individual distributors internationally.

Their unusual strategy seeks to show their support for the film, while also creating distance from Miramax's parent company, Burbank-based Walt Disney Co., which has been a lightning rod for criticism from religious groups. Through the separate corporation, the Weinsteins plan to remain involved in the film's positioning and marketing.

"Disney is a target that's too vulnerable in a situation like this," Harvey Weinstein said. "They make family movies and a protest could hurt them unnecessarily. [Disney Chairman] Michael Eisner and [studio chief] Joe Roth have been so good to Bob and myself--they give us so much latitude--that we said, 'If this is a corporate problem for Burbank, let's solve it for them.' "

The Weinsteins' announcement comes after some religious groups, including the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, complained about the film.

"Dogma" is being described as an adult fairy tale about two renegade angels (Matt Damon and Ben Affleck). Other characters include a man who falls to Earth claiming to be the 13th apostle (Chris Rock) and a heavenly muse (Salma Hayek). Pop star Alanis Morissette plays God.

A Miramax news release called the film "a satire that comes from a filmmaker who himself is a practicing Catholic with a solid foundation of love and reverence to faith."

Smith, who directed "Clerks" and "Chasing Amy," praised the Weinsteins' "great courage" and thanking them for being "the only ones willing to stick by us or back our goofy little flicks."

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