Director Barry Avrich Describes Harvey Weinstein's "Web of Control" in New Film

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Barry Avrich, Harvey Weinstein

The filmmaker's second film about the indie mogul will be released Nov. 6 on VOD.

When the allegations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexually predatory behavior began to break last fall, director Barry Avrich, who had made a 2011 documentary about the indie film mogul, Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project, realized, “I just couldn’t, as a filmmaker, with my filmography, leave this film as the only film of record of this man, without showing a different side of him — a quite horrible side.”

And so he embarked on his second Weinstein film, The ReckoningHollywood’s Worst Kept Secret, which, he said at a post-screening panel discussion as part of a #MeToo & the Arts series at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum on Sept. 21, shows a “meticulous pattern” of how a powerful man seeded his victims by spinning a “psychopathic web” of control.

In the film, which will be released on VOD on outlets from iTunes to Amazon on Nov. 6, the Canadian filmmaker uses the disgraced movie mogul as the basis and springboard for a larger picture of the revolutionary #MeToo movement, touching on the sexual scandals of other famous men, such as Louis C.K., James Toback and Woody Allen.

During the panel — which included actor/producer Melissa Hood, a writer and director on The Reckoning; actor/producer Freya Ravensbergen, co-founder of nonprofit AfterMeToo, who is also interviewed in the film; and actor/director Nicole Stamp, whose essay on Facebook about how men can help in the wake of #MeToo went viral — Avrich said he made the follow-up film for two reasons: essentially fear and loathing.

“Two things went through my mind when I read the story like everybody else in The New York Times. I was fearful that Harvey would evade justice, that the story would just go through a news cycle and disappear — because it’s disappeared for so many years and this has gone on for so long; we talk about that in the film. Both of us, Melissa and I, agreed, unless you keep the conversation going and chronicle a specific time, I was worried that this conversation would disappear. I couldn’t have predicted the tsunami of things that came forward.

“The second reason why was the first film that I made really was a film about an unlikely person who had reinvented indie cinema, but there was another side to this man that was just not on the record” in that earlier film.

One of the more horrible and horrifying stories in The Reckoning is told by actor Melissa Sagemiller, who relays how she rebuffed a relentless Weinstein when he offered his private plane to take her back to New York (with him on it). She kept saying no but he was insistent. Sagemiller made sure to keep her original plane ticket and left for the airport an hour early. After she checked in, Weinstein had her paged and had a car waiting.

Hood explained in the panel that the filmmakers didn’t want to interview stars like Rose McGowan or Salma Hayek who already had a platform, but rather women “who along the way whose careers maybe never took off because of an incident with Harvey.”

To find them, Hood did old-fashioned detective work, finding names in The New York Times, then tracked them down through their agent, manager or personal website. One woman, in New Zealand, linked her to “about 20 other women who had a class action suit against Harvey,” Hood said. 

“She passed along the letter from me and Barry and many of them contacted us who wanted to participate. Various people had different reasons for wanting or not wanting to be in a film, depending on what their case was. For women who had rape allegations or pending court cases, they couldn’t participate in a film like this at that time for legal reasons.”

Beyond giving less familiar actors a voice in the film and showing “no one story is more valuable than anyone else’s,” as Hood remarked, Avrich noted another critical reason for including these interviews: it shows how sexual predators use the art of grooming.

“We also wanted to try to show this meticulous pattern with Harvey, that it wasn’t necessarily famous people. If you watch the story in the film, he sees a relationship and there’s hundreds of them going on at the same time – it’s not an automatic assault,” Avrich explained. “It’s ‘Let’s stay in touch.’ That’s seed No. 1 and then there’s this careful organization with his assistants. “OK, September 8. By the way, I’m going to be in Rome.’ It’s just a psychopathic web. And through those stories we wanted to show, again, that it’s not necessarily famous people and that he has a real M.O.”

Avrich didn’t attempt to interview Weinstein.  “He was so lawyered up at that point, that I didn’t think that I was going to get that Eliot Spitzer moment, where we saw some element of hubris and [he] wants to set the record straight on that end of that. I think anything he would have said — and he’s said this for the record — that everything was consensual, in his brain, his delusional brain.”

Besides, he added: “I don’t know if I could even stomach him, seeing him 60-feet wide.”