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The Assistant — whose original idea came from the Harvey Weinstein scandal — premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September, is currently at Sundance and will head to the Berlin International Film Festival next month. But on Tuesday night, the movie screened just a few blocks away from the Manhattan Criminal Court Building, where Weinstein’s sexual assault trial is currently underway.
The Bleecker Street drama showcases a day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a junior assistant to a powerful film executive. Said boss is never shown or even mentioned by name throughout the entire film, but he keeps the office on edge one way or another, be it by berating employees on the phone or constantly holding closed-door meetings with attractive young women.
“Almost everything that’s in the movie has been recorded already in the news, but what I wanted was some kind of emotional insight,” director-writer-producer Kitty Green told The Hollywood Reporter. “Like, how it was for people to go through this and what it’s like to be in a position of the least power at a company like that? Or any kind of company that has those sort of problems or has a gender imbalance or is toxic in some way? That was the real proxy of my questions.”
Green’s questions were presented to nearly 100 people, whose answers helped her craft an environment that didn’t necessarily enable bad behavior, but merely tolerated it.
“What does it mean when you see something and let it happen?” said co-producer Rita Walsh. “The system is so stacked against those at the bottom that they’re forced to do things that I don’t think they would necessarily normally do.”
Green expanded on Walsh’s sentiment, explaining that she believes workplaces like the one presented in the film are “constantly dehumanizing people and taking away their humanity and pitting one person against the other and making a really competitive, toxic environment.”
As producer Scott Macaulay put it, in addition to “being about this moment, I think it will resonate in the years to come.”
Fellow producer James Schamus made a case for Green’s specific vision, too. “It’s one thing to stand on a soapbox and count yourself virtuous by denouncing evil-doing. It’s another to acknowledge and start a conversation around the fact that that evil-doing is part of the very structure of the way we do our business and live,” he told THR. “So this film asks you to look at the system, and keeps the evil-doer, in fact, rather offscreen.”
The nuanced approach also helped what could have easily become a shelved project, especially since Green got to work on the pic when Hollywood was in the early stages of figuring out how to navigate the sexual misconduct reckoning that began in 2017.
“It was a very challenging film to present in the marketplace,” Macaulay said. “People wanted to be sure of the tone of the film; they wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be exploitative. There were a lot of questions about the approach.”
Before Bleecker Street even acquired U.S. distribution rights to The Assistant, the film had landed an arguably more meaningful deal with the New York Women’s Foundation. With the help of early backer Level Forward, the filmmakers, producers and financiers pledged 10 percent of the movie’s profits to the organization.
“I just think they’re incredible,” Green said. “They support women-led organizations that are working to change the workplace so its more fair and equitable for women. I’m really, really happy to represent them.”
The Assistant hits theaters Friday. In regards to Weinstein’s trial, Green described the timing of the film’s rollout as “absolutely bizarre.”
“It really shocks me and saddens me that every time I take a break and open up my phone and look at the news, it’s horrific,” she added. “I just hope that the survivors get the legal justice they deserve.”