Getting Hollywood insiders to talk about Harvey Weinstein was like “holding an ice cube in your hand,” said Toronto filmmaker and marketing exec Barry Avrich. “Hollywood runs on the ‘you never know’ fear factor and often a yes would turn into a no.”
Avrich’s docu “Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project,” which was grabbed Thursday by IFC Films, follows Weinstein’s path from concert promoter to founding Miramax to winning an Academy Award, as well as his complex relationship with brother Bob Weinstein and the struggles of the Weinstein Co. Peter Fonda narrates the pic, which was financed by Canada’s the Movie Network and Movie Central.
Although Weinstein spurned Av-rich’s efforts last year to have him participate in the film, he told Daily Variety that he was able to maintain ongoing “courteous” communications with the movie mogul.
“He kept saying it wasn’t the right time for him professionally and that Quentin Tarantino was planning a film,” Avrich said. “After my film was announced we sat down for an interesting breakfast and he pitched me other ideas of people to make films about, including (onetime Orion head) Arthur Krim.”
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From the start, Avrich has maintained the doc is not a hatchet job but rather an exploration of a multidimensional character, his accomplishments and the changing business model of indie cinema.
Despite the “fear factor,” Avrich managed to reassemble for his film the dream team key to the Miramax infrastructure. He also talked to the likes of James Ivory, Patricia Rozema and John Irving.
“People would start telling me, ‘I’m not going to sit here and bash Harvey,’ but you can’t help but tell great stories about someone who’s larger than life,” he said, adding that the pic includes archival footage of interviews others have done with Weinstein.
Throughout the project Avrich said he received anonymous tips and was even told it was a “death wish” to make the docu, although Weinstein never issued any threats. “What could I be worried about?” Avrich laughed.
“My biggest concern was how to tell the story of this complex human being honestly, with respect and with an edge.”
Avrich, whose 2005 documentary “The Last Mogul” was a no-holds-barred portrait of Lew Wasserman, said Weinstein was natural follow-up material: “When I’d ask people if anyone comes close to Wasserman in terms of power, they would all say Harvey Weinstein, in terms of breadth of endeavor and personality — although not so much the empire-building, which in my opinion was a tragic distraction.”
IFC Films acquired worldwide rights, excluding Canada, to the docu, which didn’t screen at the fest.