Harvey Weinstein Gets Surprise Award at Capri Hollywood Fest

CAPRI, Italy – Producer Harvey Weinstein was an unexpected honoree at the 18th Capri, Hollywood Film Festival Monday, one of the highlights of a meandering award ceremony that followed the standing-room-only Italian premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, which Weinstein executive produced.

Stars Idris Elba and Naomie Harris were on hand to receive honors for their performances -- they were named actor and actress of the year, respectively. 

"I come to Capri bringing two things: a great film and the rain," said Elba, a native of rainy London in a nod to the unusually wet weather on the usually sunny island.

But the evening's highlight was the unscheduled award for Weinstein, whom festival founder Pascal Vicedomini called "Mr. Oscar." The indie film impresario famously won an Oscar for producing Shakespeare in Love in 1998 -- and Vicedomini said it was time the 61-year-old received another award.

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Surprised by the gesture, Weinstein -- a longtime supporter of the Capri festival but attending the event for the first time -- feigned anger and drew laughs from the crowd.

"What Pascal doesn't realize is that I'm not actually Jewish, I'm Sicilian," Weinstein said. "And I have some friends who are going to visit him in the middle of the night to repay him for calling me up on stage tonight."

Earlier, Weinstein recalled when he first met Nelson Mandela, the recently deceased leader whose life the film was based on.

"It was in the 1990s, and Mandela came to New York and Robert De Niro and I brought him together to meet a talented group," Weinstein recalled. "Eddie Murphy, Harvey Keitel, Oliver Stone, Al Pacino and Bette Midler were among those on hand. And Mandela said to them, 'I spent 27 years in prison, but I know who all of you are because of our Thursday movie nights that were so important to us.' Mandela helped us remember how much the movies give people the ability to dream, to imagine. It's a lesson I've never forgotten."

Before the festival, Vicedomini said Mandela's death earlier this month inspired him to create an informal section on the lives of notable Africans and African Americans, including Lee Daniels' The Butler, 12 Years a Slave from director Steve McQueen and Fruitvale Station from rookie helmer Ryan Coogler.

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The Capri, Hollywood fest has never been shy about handing out awards, and it didn't stop Monday with those related to Mandela. Also honored was Gianfranco Rosi, whose latest film, Sacro GRA, became the first-ever documentary to win the Venice Film Festival in September; Ornella Vanoni, the 79-year-old Italian music icon; popular Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, best known as Noa; and the innovative musical group the Solis String Quartet.

The last award was particularly noteworthy, because the group performed music from iconoclastic Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla. The group's award was presented by former Monty Python cast member and Oscar-nominated director Terry Gilliam, who was enthusiastic about it because he used Piazzolla's music throughout his acclaimed 1995 sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys.

"I know the music well, but this is the first time I heard it played live and it's just fantastic," said Gilliam, who was given a career award in Capri 10 years ago.

The Capri festival got underway Dec. 26 and will run through Thursday. The event always spans the new year, making it the last festival of each year and the first of the following one.

Twitter: @EricJLyman