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Fest selection of 'Precious' could reignite Weinstein-Lionsgate spat

The inclusion of "Precious: Based on the Novel by Sapphire" in the Un Certain Regard section of the Festival de Cannes could stir up the ongoing legal fight over North American rights to the Lee Daniels drama.

The Weinstein Co. has not ruled out the possibility of seeking an injunction to block the screening, though it currently is seeking only monetary damages.

"Precious" (originally titled "Push") was slated to close the New Directors/New Films festival in New York this month but was dropped, presumably to pave the way for a Croisette unspooling.

Weinstein did not take legal action at that time, but the Cannes showing, with its attendant media circus, could prompt a bigger fight.

In February, Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co. traded lawsuits, with the New York mini-major claiming it had reached an agreement with producer Smokehouse Films and its rep Cinetic Media to buy rights to the pic at Sundance before Lionsgate closed its own deal.

Cinetic and Smokehouse were named in separate New York lawsuits, while TWC filed a third suit against Lionsgate for interfering with the negotiation.

Lionsgate's lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, sought a court declaration that it owned North American rights and that producers never reached a deal with the Weinstein Co. Lionsgate, which plans to release the film this year with the support of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, later filed a motion to dismiss the New York case. Motions are pending in both states.

Neither Lionsgate nor the Weinstein Co. would comment Thursday. It is unclear whether Winfrey or Perry would attend the Cannes screening.

Legal experts said that even though the Weinstein Co. had been bidding for world rights, it could face an uphill battle in trying to stop a screening at Cannes. The fest normally would come under the publicity efforts of a film's North American distributor, but as a foreign territory, it still sits outside that distributor's jurisdiction. Rights in other countries subsequently have been sold by producers, including Filmax for Spain and Arp for France.

Steven Zeitchik reported from New York; Matthew Belloni reported from Los Angeles.
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