When Canberra dodged the Harvey bullet
31 October 2012. Ron Cerebona Story. Canberra Times photo by Rohan Thomson. The Canberra International Film Festival’s Nicole Mitchell and Simon Weaving.rt121031CIFF-4548.jpgThe reasons now disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein did not show up to an event honouring him in Canberra in 2013 are “total bullshit”, according to one local film identity.
The ACT Government also confirmed on Friday it lost $125,000 in funding towards the cancelled three-day event when Weinstein failed to turn up.
The sensational no-show of Weinstein four years ago – supposedly due to a dicky knee – is being chewed over again as the powerful producer now faces allegations of sexual harassment and rape in a case of the casting couch writ large.
Weinstein was chosen by the board of the Canberra International Film Festival to be the subject of its first Body of Work event in which he and his films would be honoured in a glamorous finale to the Centenary of Canberra celebrations in 2013.
The producer cancelled at the last minute in a move which almost brought the film festival to its financial knees.
Former CIFF artistic director Simon Weaving, the brother of actor Hugo Weaving and father of rising star Samara Weaving, said this week he resigned from the festival in late 2012 – when Weinstein had been locked in as the guest – partly due to his concerns about the financial risks around Body of Work.
He also held grave concerns about the festival honouring Weinstein, saying the heavyweight producer “was known in the industry as not a pleasant person”, the event was likely to be an exercise in sycophancy at a considerable financial cost to a relatively small arts organisation and Weinstein, in any case, was more a businessman than true artist.
“I’ve never been a fan of him for Body of Work because he doesn’t have a body of work, he’s a producer and a wheeler and dealer and well known for screwing over screenwriters and filmmakers and forcing people to change their films,” Weaving told The Canberra Times this week.
“For me, the celebration of a Body of Work is somebody who as an artist created a body of work. So I never saw the fit with Harvey Weinstein.”
Weinstein was to be feted at a gala ball at Parliament House, costing $440 a head, as he was presented with the inaugural Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts International Fellowship for championing Australian film.
But two days before his expected arrival in Canberra in November, 2013, Weinstein pulled the pin.
He claimed to be following doctor’s orders not to fly to Australia and risk a blood clot after injuring his knee.
Some have now suggested Canberra dodged a bullet in 2013 given the litany of complaints which have been raised in recent weeks against Weinstein, who, in response to at least some of the allegations, has denied he engaged in “non-consensual sex”.
“I remember telling people at the time that his reputation in the industry was well known,” Weaving said.
“He was the only person I’d heard industry people regularly use the c-word to describe.”
Weaving said then Body of Work director Nicole Mitchell had initially pushed hard for director and actor Clint Eastwood to be honoured in the first Body of Work but the octogenarian did not want to fly so far.
Weaving had suggested someone Australian like Picnic at Hanging Rock director Peter Weir.
It was later that the board settled on Weinstein.
Weaving says the excuses around Weinstein’s failure to show in 2013 were also “total bullshit”.
“I don’t think he had any real intention of coming. I don’t think he gave a toss, to be honest. The Harvey Weinstein Christmas party was on the same weekend in LA and must have been planned months in advance,” he said.
“He was in New York attending the opening of a film. He said he couldn’t fly. He flew to LA for the Christmas party the same weekend he was meant to be in Canberra.
“I just think he thought it was a fun thing to do and in the end he couldn’t be bothered flying to Australia. I just think he didn’t give a damn about it.”
The ACT Government was due to contribute $137,500 to Body of Work honouring Weinstein so that the Centenary of Canberra could sponsor the event and be closely aligned to it.
A budget item from the time read: “The inaugural Body of Work honours Harvey Weinstein. Conversations, talks, panel discussions, Q&As and film screenings were held in multiple locations across Canberra to pay homage to Harvey’s leadership of independent cinema. The Centenary of Canberra received logo recognition, Foundation Partner status, invitations to key events and speaking opportunities”.
A spokesman for Chief Minister Andrew Barr said on Friday that the government paid $125,000 towards the Weinstein event, ultimately not paying the final $12,500 when Body of Work conference was cancelled.
The spokeswoman said none of the money was recouped by the government.
Sources have said that Weinstein, who was not paid any money, did donate $50,000 to cover some of the costs associated with the cancelled event but that went to ticket holders before the government.
Weaving resigned from the film festival board in late 2012, almost a year before Weinstein was to visit Canberra.
His resignation letter in 2012 detailed concerns that Body of Work would be a foolhardy financial venture, “with no risk-minimisation mechanisms in place”.
In his letter, Weaving wrote: “The last budget tabled for the 3-day event shows that it will incur expenditure in excess of half a million dollars. Apart from the Centenary funding of $150,000 it is not clear how this activity will be funded (other than ‘sponsorship’ – which totals $375,000).
“I don’t know about anyone else, but this really concerns me. I think the poor governance situation has meant that the committee has never fully analysed the fundamental business proposition of this activity, considered the appropriateness of its cost structure, nor rigorously challenged the risks associated with it.
“It has never been articulated who/what size the audience is for this event, or who the sponsors are, and I am deeply concerned that the core business, and the organisation’s accumulated reserves and membership fees are at risk”.
Weaving’s fears were realised in 2014 – after Weinstein’s no-show and the scramble to refund tickets and recover lost funds – when the Canberra International Film Festival made a loss of $50,000 and was almost cancelled in 2015.
“Everything I predicted in my resignation letter happened. It was just a travesty really,” Weaving said.
“I am just thankful there are people who have resurrected the festival in recent years, Alice Taylor in particular, who have tried really hard to put it back on track.”
Weaving said his 25-year-old actress daughter Samara had thankfully never been subjected to Hollywood’s casting couch.
“We talk about it a lot. And same with my brother,” he said.
“And, yeah, I’ve talked to Sam – ‘Does that stuff ever happen?’. And it never happens to her. I think she’s got good support systems with her manager and her agent and that’s really important to have. You just never set up a meeting in a hotel, you just never do that.”
Four years down the track, Weaving said it was foresight not hindsight that sounded the alarm bells around the whole Canberra debacle of Body of Work and Harvey Weinstein.
“It was a very sad affair which I think was avoidable,” he said.
“Maybe we can breathe a sigh of relief it didn’t happen.”
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