Harvey Weinstein isn’t anywhere near the Sundance Film Festival this year, but the now-disgraced producer’s ongoing criminal trial for rape in New York is front of mind for many at the gathering he dominated for years.
“I was at screenings he was at here, I was at parties he was at here, I worked on movies that he snapped up here, and I knew something wasn’t right with the guy,” a prominent producer told me of Weinstein’s reign of terror in the indie film world, as Project Runway PA Mimi Haleyi testified today in Manhattan about Weinstein’s alleged assaults against her
“But what we know now of the attacks and the threats and what we are seeing at the trial is sickening and something else,” the female producer added Monday outside the coffee joint on Park City’s chilly Main Street, as Sundance patrons headed off to morning screenings, meetings and events.
Following opening arguments last week in the case that could see the 67-year-old Weinstein behind bars for life, Annabella Sciorra took the stand Thursday in Judge James Burke’s courtroom on the 15th floor of Manhattan’s Criminal Courts Building to detail how the producer allegedly raped her in the early 1990s.
The emotional testimony and specific evidence from the Sopranos alum on the opening day of Sundance 2020 was followed by testimony from Rosie Perez the next day.
At the Robert Redford-founded festival this week for the Dee Rees’ directed Netflix film The Last Thing He Wanted, Perez on Friday told the judge, the jury, Assistant D.A. Joan Illuzzi, the defense team and Weinstein seated nearby how her close friend had sobbed and informed her of the attack. “She told me never to tell anybody, but I told her to go to the police,” Perez said to the courtroom. “She said she can’t because ‘he will destroy me,’” Perez claimed Sciorra said of her assailant.
While the Gloria Allred-represented Haleyi is one of the women at the heart of the first criminal case against the much-accused Weinstein, Sciorra’s assault is not among the five felony charges the producer faces. However, similar to the Bill Cosby retrial, her testimony is one of those that has been permitted in the trial under what is known as “prior bad acts” to establish a defendant’s behavior and actions.
“It disgusts me to read her testimony and what he did to her,” an award-winning male director at Sundance this year said of Sciorra’s stint on the stand last week. “What really disgusts me also is that it has taken so long get him in court and all the other women who are unable to have their day in court,” the filmmaker lamented.
Known for buying up smaller Sundance contenders to keep them out of the way of projects he truly wanted to champion, Weinstein undoubtedly put Sundance on the map. An unrelenting bidder on films he sought and always enthroned at the back of the Eccles Theater on opening night, Weinstein took the likes of Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotape and Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs out of Park City and into cinema history.
Sundance is also the place where several of the rapes and assaults that Weinstein is alleged to have committed occurred. Rose McGowan has said that Weinstein attacked her in a Park City hotel suite in 1997 and later paid her $100,000 to stay quiet about it.
While a declining force at Sundance in the years before the New York Times exposé of October 2017 pulled back the curtain on decades of Weinstein’s alleged misconduct, the BBC documentary Untouchable about the Oscar-winning producer screend last year at the festival. This year, the partially Weinstein inspired drama The Assistant has screenings Tuesday and Saturday in Park City.
“We all knew Harvey was a bully and could be horrible, but now to hear a woman tell her truth on the stand, I don’t know, it amplifies how truly horrible he is,” a male writer at this year’s Sundance said on the sidelines of a packed opening-weekend party. “And I worry it might not matter, that he might get off or just a slap on the wrist,” the seasoned scribe added. “What kind of message does that convey to women in Hollywood, to women everywhere?”
For some, Weinstein’s actions in and away from Sundance have become a personal haunting as well as a professional warning.
“It disturbs me greatly that this was happening what seems to be all the time for years and we either didn’t see it or brushed it off as just Harvey, just the way people are,” the producer says, looking out the window at Main Street today. “I don’t know who knew what, and I didn’t know anything, or maybe I did and didn’t give it credence, but I feel now that we were all a bit complicit.”
First arrested in late May 2018, Weinstein is facing multiple counts of predatory sexual assault, one count of criminal sexual act in the first degree and one count each of first-degree rape and third-degree rape in New York. Subject to travel restrictions reinforced last August 7, he is now out on a $5 million bail after first entering a not guilty plea on July 9, 2018. Weinstein entered a plea of not guilty again on August 26 last year when a new indictment was added.
Accused by Ashley Judd in a now temporarily halted case, failing to get a sex-trafficking class action tossed out, and the subject of a more recent lawsuit from a woman who says he abused her when she was 16 in 2002, Weinstein is also facing allegations from close to 100 other women that say he sexually assaulted or sexually harassed them. At present, several of the women are refusing to participate in a potential $25 million over-arching settlement that is part of an overall $45 million deal on the table.
In addition to the multiple sexual assault charges announced January 6 by the Los Angeles County District Attorney and the NYC trial, Weinstein is also under investigation by federal prosecutors as well as probes by the Manhattan D.A.’s office, the NYPD, the LAPD and others globally.
As the defense seeks another mistrial today and plants more seeds for an appeal if necessary, the Weinstein trial is expected to go well into March. This year’s Sundance Film Festival runs until February 2.