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'Push' comes to shove in movie rights fight

Weinstein Co. sues, saying it owns distribution rights, not Lionsgate, which files its own suit.

February 06, 2009|John Horn

Many Sundance Film Festival movies left this year's gathering without a distributor, but indie film pioneer Harvey Weinstein is alleging that one of the festival's most acclaimed movies -- "Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire" -- actually was sold twice.

In three lawsuits filed Wednesday in New York against the film's sales agent, Cinetic Media, Lionsgate Films and the film's producers, Weinstein Co. said that it -- and not Lionsgate -- secured distribution rights to the gritty drama about an illiterate black teenager trying to turn her life around.

Lionsgate filed a separate but related legal action in Los Angeles this week, arguing that it was the true owner of the film's North American rights.

Cinetic said Thursday that, while Weinstein Co. was among "Push's" bidders, it failed to finalize a deal. Cinetic maintains that it sold "Push" to Lionsgate on Jan. 30, almost a week after the 25th annual festival concluded.

The sales price was about $5.5 million, according to a person close to the deal who spoke on condition of anonymity because the contract terms are private.

"We respect Harvey tremendously," Cinetic's John Sloss said in an interview, saying that he was speaking for himself and partner Bart Walker, both named as defendants by the Weinstein Co. "But in this case he is overreaching. There was never a deal with the Weinstein Co. There were numerous, material unresolved points."

"Push" is only the third film in Sundance history to win the festival's Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award. In its complaint, Lionsgate said that during its negotiations for the film it was aware that Weinstein Co. also was pursuing the movie. It said Weinstein Co. even told Lionsgate that it "had already reached an agreement" to buy it.

Lionsgate said it sought assurances from the film's producers that no such deal, either oral or written, was in place, and received such a promise.

"Lionsgate closed a North American distribution deal for 'Push,' and the sellers confirmed that no other agreement was in place," Lionsgate said in a statement.

A lawyer for Weinstein Co. did not return requests for comment.

No release date has been set for "Push," but Lionsgate is planning to distribute the film with the support of Oprah Winfrey and filmmaker Tyler Perry.

While disputes over film festival bidding wars are common as sales agents try to play one distributor against another to ratchet up the offers, legal action is rare.

More typically, one bidder thinks it has a deal, only to be topped by a more aggressive buyer.

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john.horn@latimes.com

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