Cannes pick could provoke legal drama

'Precious' at center of fight between Lionsgate, Weinstein

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 fest 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 from the slate, presumably to pave the way for a Croisette unspooling.

TWC did not take any 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 that it had reached an agreement with producer during Sundance.

Smokewood Films and its rep Cinetic Media to buy rights to the pic before Lionsgate closed its own deal.

Cinetic and Smokewood 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 the pic's North American rights and that producers never reached a deal with TWC. 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. The motions are pending in both states.

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

Legal experts said that even though TWC 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.
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