EXCLUSIVE: The Taylor Sheridan-directed Wind River has severed the connection between the film and the scandal-scarred Harvey Weinstein and his former The Weinstein Company label. A deal has been completed that will excise all mention of Weinstein both on its home video release through Lionsgate and streaming release through Netflix, and also on awards-season screeners. The latter will be part of an Oscar campaign that will now be fully funded by the film’s principal financier Acacia Entertainment. An entity that is backed by the Tunica-Biloxi tribes, Acacia put up a majority of the under $10 million budget to make the film.
While TWC already released the film in August and watched it become one of the most successful prestige releases of 2017 with $33 million in domestic grosses, the unusual move was crucial if the film is to have any opportunity to be considered during awards season. Talks with TWC senior brass and COO David Glasser, which guided this concession, are also ongoing right now to earmark any future income that would have gone to TWC to the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, a charity for battered Native American women.
The relevance between the film and the recent events that have shocked Hollywood to its core is overwhelming. Sheridan scripted a thriller that pointedly shines a light on the rape and exploitation of Native American women on reservations, and it is a cruel irony that it was released by a company whose leader Weinstein became a global pariah when a long — and still growing — list of women described in detail his alleged attempts to rape and sexually harass them.
The talks have ongoing since the New York Times and the New Yorker revealed Weinstein’s actions, with a stunned Sheridan canceling a series of interviews meant to kick off awards season. The Tunica-Biloxi tribes will fully fund the awards campaign, and the filmmakers are making it clear they will take no monies or resources from TWC, insiders said. Their hope is that film is evaluated on its merits, and that awards-season voters can be reminded why Sheridan made the film. While Sheridan spent most of his adult life chasing an acting career, he grew up on a Texas ranch and lives on one in Utah. There, he got to know the region’s Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone population and has sought to highlight their myriad problems, with unreported sexual assaults of Native American women a major one. Measured alongside Hell or High Water and Sicario, Wind River is considered by Sheridan to be a trilogy that explores the contemporary meaning of the Western frontier and outlaw culture.
This removal of the Weinstein name came after heavy lobbying from Sheridan, the film’s stars Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olsen (the latter a rape treatment center volunteer), producer Basil Iwanyk, and the willingness of Acacia, led by Matthew George, to fund the campaign. The home video deal put in place long ago with Lionsgate remains, and since DVDs have yet to hit stores there was time to excise the Weinstein mention, just as there was in the cut that will be streamed on Netflix.
The entire point here was the removal of the Weinstein name from a film that overcame early adversity to become an Oscar buzz title since its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival led Sheridan to be awarded Best Director in the Un Certain Regard category, along with nominations for Prix Un Certain Regard and Camera d’Or. Campaigning in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal would have been radioactive in the coming awards season. Deadline’s November 4-set The Contenders, which has become a key awards-season event where filmmakers speak directly to an auditorium full of voters at DGA headquarters, would not have made room for Wind River if the Weinstein name had been on the film, for example.
Sources said the film is eyeing the categories of Best Film, for Sheridan in the Best Director and Best Original Screenplay categories, and for Renner in Best Actor and Olsen as Best Actress.
Renner plays a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming who discovers the frozen body of an 18-year-old Native American woman, shoe-less and woefully under-dressed for the brutal cold. She was also the best friend of the agent’s own half-Indian daughter who had been raped and murdered three years earlier. The victim is discovered to have endured blunt sexual trauma and death from exposure and her lungs essentially exploding after she fled her assailant and rapidly inhaled sub-zero temperature air. Those circumstances lead the local coroner to refuse to label it a murder that would trigger a federal inquiry.
A young FBI agent (Olsen) comes to investigate. While she is woefully unprepared — dressed in a windbreaker that would leave her dead five minutes into the wilds — Renner is especially suited for what is to come. The USFWS agent spends his days hunting predatory animals on the reservation, and while his job is to guide the agent, he has promised the victim’s father he will hunt and kill whoever was responsible.
TWC acquired the film back in 2016 Cannes on a short promo reel, but delayed closing the domestic deal when it saw Sheridan’s first cut. Running out of money, the filmmakers submitted Wind River to the Sundance Film Festival and got accepted. They did this without listing a TWC connection, prompting erroneous reports that TWC had dropped out. TWC execs saw a cut days before the Sundance premiere last January and those executives finally closed the deal.
Sheridan continued to work on the film, making changes and losing four minutes in running time before bringing it to Cannes and coming away with the Best Director prize. Wind River had a charmed prestige release run, playing through the summer with strong reviews and what looked like the same awards-season momentum as the Sheridan-scripted Hell Of High Water one year earlier. Those prospects were dealt an unexpected blow in the cruel irony of an unending stream of headlines about Weinstein and the allegations of rape, forced sexual encounters and sexual harassment by dozens of well-known actresses.