Harvey Weinstein is serving a 23-year sentence on rape and sexual assault charges, which make him ineligible for parole until after his 87th birthday. He’s also facing additional charges in Los Angeles that carry a maximum sentence of 140 years.
But the disgraced producer could go free in just a few months if a New York appeals court overturns his conviction.
Five justices heard arguments on the case on Wednesday, and three of them expressed serious concern about the testimony admitted at trial. One justice, Sallie Manzanet-Daniels, referred to the use of uncharged allegations as “overkill” and “piling on.”
Weinstein’s attorneys are not making any predictions about how the court will rule, but they are feeling optimistic.
“I think it couldn’t have gone better,” said Donna Rotunno, the lead defense lawyer at Weinstein’s trial, who said that the line of questioning felt like “a wish list of how you want something like that to go.”
“We are very happy,” said her co-counsel, Damon Cheronis. “We are very hopeful, based on the appellate court’s questioning, that they see this case for what it is, that evidence that should have never been brought before this jury infected the trial and made it impossible for Mr. Weinstein to get a fair trial.”
The trial judge, Justice James Burke, allowed prosecutors to call three witnesses — Tarale Wulff, Dawn Dunning and Lauren Young — who testified that Weinstein had sexually assaulted them during what they thought were business meetings. Those allegations were not eligible to be charged, but they were used to support the allegations for which Weinstein was on trial.
Burke also ruled that if Weinstein took the stand, prosecutors could cross-examine him about as many as 28 other uncharged acts, including an incident when he threatened to cut off someone’s genitals, and another when he left an employee by the side of the road. Weinstein did not testify, so that evidence was not heard.
At the oral argument on Wednesday, the justices questioned whether those decisions — called Molineux and Sandoval rulings, respectively — served to impugn Weinstein’s character, rather than to shed light on whether he committed the charged offenses.
“He doesn’t get convicted because he’s a bad guy,” said Justice Judith Gische. “He gets convicted for these particular crimes.”
Assistant District Attorney Valerie Figueredo argued that Burke had balanced his rulings and excluded some of the evidence sought by the prosecution.
Julie Rendelman, a defense attorney and former Brooklyn prosecutor, said the D.A.’s office may have erred by asking for too much evidence, even if Burke was willing to allow most of it.
“My mother always said, ‘Don’t be a chazir‘ — a taker,” she said. “Their job is not to get in everything. Their job is to make sure everything is protected. You don’t want to be in the situation they’re in now. You don’t want your case potentially overturned.”
Several attorneys said Thursday that the justices’ questions don’t guarantee that they will order a new trial. It is possible that the justices could fault Burke’s rulings, but uphold the verdict on the grounds that the jury had overwhelming evidence without the extra testimony. It’s also possible that the justices could split, and those who raised the gravest concerns could end up in the minority.
“We’re kind of reading tea leaves here,” said defense attorney Michael Bachner. But, he added, “The New York State court is not bashful about overturning convictions, even in high profile cases.”
Bennett Gershman, a professor at Pace Law School, teaches about Molineux testimony, and suggested that its use in the Weinstein case was “dubious.”
“This proof is dangerous because it carries such tremendous prejudice,” Gershman said. “There are a number of cases the courts have reversed. This is an issue the courts monitor very carefully because they know how devastating this proof can be.”
Weinstein was convicted of third-degree rape of Jessica Mann and first-degree assault of Miriam Haley. He was acquitted of charges pertaining to Annabella Sciorra, who alleged he had raped her at her apartment in the early 1990s. If the appeals court ordered a new trial, prosecutors could call Haley and Mann to testify again, but not Sciorra.
Haley’s attorney, Gloria Allred, said Thursday that if Haley were asked to testify at a retrial, “She will consider it.”
A new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, will be sworn in on Jan. 1. If the conviction is thrown out, he would ultimately have to make the decision about whether to try Weinstein again.
Bragg cited the Weinstein case during his campaign, faulting incumbent Cyrus Vance for not charging Weinstein for the alleged sexual assault of model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez in 2015. Bragg also noted that as chief deputy in the attorney general’s office, he had overseen the state’s civil case against Weinstein and the Weinstein Co.
Defense attorney Jeff Greco predicted that Bragg would face significant pressure to try Weinstein again.
“There’s no way they’re going to punt,” Greco said. “It would be political suicide.”
A spokesman for Vance’s office declined to comment. A spokesman for Bragg’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Weinstein is currently housed at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, where he is awaiting his trial on 11 other rape and sexual assault charges. That trial is not expected to begin until next summer, at the earliest. If the New York conviction is overturned, Weinstein’s attorneys would likely seek to have him released on bail.
“He would absolutely be bail eligible,” Greco said. “There would be no legal basis to keep him in.”
Rotunno argued that Weinstein did not get due process at his trial, nearly two years ago, and was instead subjected to “emotional decisions.” She said hoped there has been a shift in the overall climate since then.
“That was my beef with this case all along,” she said. “There was this ‘convict at all costs’ mentality. I will continue to be bothered by that.”
“They tried to create this monster we never believed existed,” Cheronis said. “They were allowed to put in evidence that wasn’t relevant, that was prejudicial, and thank God people are now taking it seriously.”
Why Are Indie Films So Strange Right Now?
In a world drowning in content, independent films give jaded audiences a fresh way to look at the world. Nothing new there. But lately, some of these movies have really gone off the deep end.
In “Lamb,” an Icelandic couple discovers an adorable sheep-baby and attempts to raise it as their own. In “Titane,” a car-show dancer murders a would-be rapist, then turns around and has sex with a tricked-out Cadillac. In “The Green Knight,” a reckless Arthurian hero hacks down a human tree, knowing full well it will cost him his head.
Unconventional as these movies may be, they’re finding an audience today that I would not have thought possible a decade or so ago. Not a huge audience, mind you, but a small yet dedicated segment of the public that’s fed up with formula, hungry for movies with the capacity to surprise, perhaps even to shock.
Let’s call them “bizart-house movies,” for lack of a better term — unapologetically odd and original creations, led by a gifted group of rebel auteurs who don’t kowtow to popular expectations. Think Ari Aster (“Midsommar”), Robert Eggers (“The Lighthouse”), Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”) and Harmony Korine (“The Beach Bum”).
Film critics certainly respond to originality, celebrating risk-takers and championing movies that try something different. And while it can be thrilling to see such artists let their freak flags fly, they wouldn’t be doing it without the support of a cluster of young companies that have come to the collective realization that outré is in.
Companies including A24, which functions as a small studio, working with distinctive directors to make movies that break the mold, like gonzo buns-and-guns bonanza “Spring Breakers,” “Under the Skin” and “The Lobster.” Companies such as Neon, IFC and Focus, which both produce and acquire films that aren’t necessarily easy to swallow, but tweak seen-it-all audiences in unpredictable ways (e.g., “Promising Young Woman” and “Parasite”). On the much smaller side, new players Dekanalog, Utopia and Altered Innocence are gravitating to the fringes where Bertrand Mandico, Quentin Dupieux and Gaspar Noé do their thing.
The Sundance Film Festival is as good a place as any to take stock of this phenomenon — a global trend that’s admittedly hard to put one’s finger on, if only because it’s near-impossible to identify what a wave of nonconformist films have in common, beyond a shared commitment to defying the rules.
For 30-odd years, Sundance has been the country’s best platform for outside-the-box storytelling, from radical realism (“The Blair Witch Project”) to aggressively against-the-grain narrative experimentation (“Memento”). Things got cutesy there for a while, back around the time of “Napoleon Dynamite” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” to the extent that an entire generation came to associate indie with “quirky,” candy-colored dramedies.
Now the pendulum’s swinging hard in the other direction. From this year’s Sundance lineup, I’d point to examples such as Goran Stolevski’s “You Won’t Be Alone,” a Macedonian-language folk-horror movie about a witch that shape-shifts through several identities, and the Searchlight-acquired “Fresh” in the Midnight section. IFC’s “Hatching” — about a seemingly ordinary girl with a most unconventional playmate — and Riley Stearns’ clone-versus-clone death match “Dual” also qualify, featuring startling and/or unsettling elements that cut through the bigger-budget competition in theaters.
The rise of such experimentation suggests that directors are not only allowed but actively encouraged to be transgressive: Kill off a main character (“Midsommar”), splice the story into three chapters (“Moonlight”) or turn to Twitter for your source material (“Zola”). Given the marketplace, there’s something logical, even inevitable, about that strategy. No indie distributor can compete with the majors’ monster advertising budgets, but insofar as those massive releases tend to look and sound the same, weirdness gets noticed.
Although their slates tend to be super diverse, A24, Neon and others have effectively cultivated their own dedicated followings, wherein each distributor is viewed as the curator of distinctive moviegoing experiences, wildly different from what the studios are selling. Tired of “Avatar” and “Avengers” and live-action remakes of classic Disney cartoons? Why not watch a movie in which Paul Dano motorboats around on a flatulent corpse (“Swiss Army Man”)? Or a slow-burn culinary thriller in which Nicolas Cage plays a lonely chef hellbent on retrieving his truffle-hunting companion (“Pig”)?
The recent success of such bizarre offerings springs from the fact that today’s audiences are savvier than ever. They’ve grown up inundated with sequels and series, reboots and reruns, absorbing countless versions of the same stories in their lifetimes, to the point that they can predict what comes next in most mainstream releases. They’ve consumed their share of directors’ commentaries and behind-the-scenes extras, and many have dabbled in filmmaking themselves.
For adventurous viewers, these bizart-house movies represent a special kind of challenge, a chance to stretch their limits, expand their cinematic vocabulary and potentially witness something totally unlike anything they’ve previously experienced on-screen. I see a certain overlap with the horror genre in this respect — especially a movie such as “Hereditary,” which marks A24’s biggest success to date, blindsiding audiences with its mid-film decapitation and ultra-dark finale.
There’s no guarantee that a movie such as “Uncut Gems” or “Red Rocket” will deliver a happy ending, and there’s a high likelihood that it will serve up at least one truly mind-blowing scene to justify the price of admission.
Remember back in the early aughts, the way moviegoers came to associate M. Night Shyamalan with twist endings, to the extent that they’d be furious if one of his films didn’t yank the rug out from under them? These days, I’ve noticed audiences perking up when they see the A24 or Neon logo, conditioned to expect the unexpected — and disappointed when the films don’t deliver. And that appetite in turn supports an indie-film environment where directors are motivated to be more original, more surprising and all around more creative.
Variety Promotes Dea Lawrence to Chief Operating and Marketing Officer
Variety has promoted Dea Lawrence to Chief Operating and Marketing Officer.
Lawrence has dramatically expanded Variety‘s business operations since she rejoined the brand in 2015 as Chief Marketing Officer. She led the reimagining of Variety’s thriving roster of annual events and summits by pivoting at the start of the pandemic to the creation of the Variety Streaming Room virtual franchise.
Along with Steven Gaydos, Variety‘s Executive Vice President of Global Content, Lawrence created the Variety Content Studio, which includes both brand storytelling and sponsored video series. Through savvy technology vendor alliances, she has improved the infrastructure and productivity across creative, event production, ticket sales and social media.
“Dea is an innovative and exceptional executive with a varied and deep digital skill set which has been invaluable to Variety as the worlds of technology and media are now inseparable,” said Michelle Sobrino-Stearns, Variety CEO and Group Publisher. ”Her leadership is a key factor to the success of the brand, and I couldn’t be more excited to work with her as we take Variety to the next level.”
Lawrence previously headed Variety‘s digital sales and marketing departments from 2001 to 2008. In her expanded role, Lawrence is tasked with driving operational efficiencies, resource planning, organizational development and marketing for the brand with a focus on video and digital growth.
“It is an honor to serve the premium brand in entertainment business news and to work with the best team in the industry,” said Lawrence. “I am grateful for the company’s ongoing trust in me and inspired to continue Variety’s expansion.”
Lawrence will continue to report to Sobrino-Stearns. She is based out of Variety’s corporate headquarters in Los Angeles.