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LONDON — Harvey Weinstein rode into the British capital Thursday night waving his independent filmmaking champion banner.
Delivering a lengthy and entertaining keynote speech during the BFI London Film Festival, the movie mogul pulled no punches when it came to the threat posed to moviemakers by piracy, particularly Internet piracy.
And it was the billion-dollar Internet companies for which Weinstein reserved most of his ire — even going so far as to blame rampant piracy on video-sharing sites like YouTube.
“I think we [as an industry] are being done a massive disservice by these companies,” Weinstein growled, citing the fact that users can access nine clips of the movie Chicago on YouTube and end up watching the whole thing for free.
He said people who worked on movies, the unionized labor and the filmmakers and producers who would all get a share of any broadcast fee when it airs, are “not getting [paid] anything at all” by video-sharing sites that allow the footage to run.
“We need to rally filmmakers, content providers and musicians around the world,” Weinstein said.
He cited France as being the beacon of light in an otherwise dark and gloomy situation.
“If an Internet company steals content, they shut it down,” Weinstein said, saying it was his kind of justice to hang ’em first and then talk about it later.
“And let me tell you, Apple France, Yahoo France or Google France, none of them have gone out of business.”
He said Nicolas Sarkozy introduced the “harshest anti-piracy laws” in existence when he was French president.
“Whether you like his politics or not, this law was good,” Weinstein said, “because people are disincentified to steal.”
He said the results also could be seen in a country where 260 French movies were made last year, and difficult funding propositions, like the €14 million ($18 million) black-and-white silent film The Artist, could find people to fund it.
“You get a robust local industry from it,” he said.
Weinstein’s speech was full of humor and barbed observations.
“I love it when these Internet dudes say to me, ‘Hey man, we just want to be ‘content neutral,’ ” Weinstein noted. “Next time, I’ll say, ‘Sure, I’ll get my tie-dye shirt and come and sit in your billion-dollar mansion in San Francisco or Silicon Valley for a while, soak it up.’ ”
It was a trio of threats to his beloved independent industry that occupied much of Weinstein’s stage time.
At the podium, Weinstein — who had received a fellowship from the British Film Institute on the very same cinema stage in 2002 along with his brother Bob — spoke of the threat of consolidation among U.S. networks all run by conglomerates.
He warned of a time in the not-too-distant future whereby the 500-channel world we think offers diversity and choice actually is run by six companies.
“What happens is every choice is made by a central bureau, and it shoves it out without us having a choice,” Weinstein said. “I am concerned about the regulators not being smart enough to deal with this for us. Where is the maverick TV owner now?”
Weinstein also bemoaned the lack of protection for film heritage and the necessity to find ways of preserving and showcasing old classics.
Weinstein took the audience down his own personal memory lane from the past year, talking about a series of clips unspooling on the theater screen behind him at the BFI’s national film theater.
Movies he said he had watched in the past year, “to remind himself of our heritage,” included F.W Murnau‘s silent movie City Girl, a film The Artist‘s director Michel Hazanavicius insisted he watch because it had inspired the French Oscar winner.
He also showed clips from John Ford‘s They Were Expendable and Fort Apache as well as Rio Bravo because it was a film Quentin Tarantino told him that “if you took a girl on a date with you and she sat through the whole thing, then you should marry her.”
Also played were clips from Charlie Chaplin starrers City Lights and The Circus, followed by Hong Kong martial arts classic Come Drink With Me, featuring a scene Ang Lee would pay homage to in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
“Another problem is finding ways to showcase these films,” Weinstein said. “We’re left with stumbling across them at 4 a.m. on television. I am not pretending that my company hasn’t profited from reality TV shows, but there should be room for these films.”
U.S. politics crept in to Weinstein’s rhetoric on more than one occasion. He took a humorous shot at Mitt Romney for “not even respecting his dad” for refusing to concede to the 10-year rule on back-tax investigations George Romney canvassed for as a Republican.
And Weinstein also drew laughs when, in answering a question from the floor, he mentioned Clint Eastwood’s Trouble With the Curve baseball movie.
“I’m a fan of that movie and Eastwood’s movies but not his politics,” Weinstein said. “He’s gone a bit off this year. I am a fan of him as a person, I know him, but maybe that movie should be called Trouble With the Chair.”
Weinstein was introduced by BFI chief executive Amanda Nevill, who followed a show reel of Weinstein’s output including Anthony Minghella‘s The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, directed by John Madden, and Tarantino’s filmography introduced by BFI head of exhibition and festival director Clare Stewart.
Nevill noted how hard it was to follow the show reel with words of introduction because it “just made you want to sit back and watch them all, back-to-back.”
Nevill playfully noted that Weinstein was famous for “not suffering fools gladly, perhaps not suffering fools at all” in introducing him and also reminded the audience that he first had been inspired by film when he went to see Francois Truffaut‘s The 400 Blows in his local Queens theater thinking it was a porn movie.
Weinstein confirmed from the stage that, yes, he and his six friends had trailed along to find the porn film, but while four of his gang exited after 15 minutes, he and his brother had been transfixed by the French director’s tale of adolescence and petty crime.
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