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Miramax's fate dominates Sundance

The impending divorce from Disney makes the future unclear
/ Source: Reuters

As independent filmmakers descended on the Sundance Film Festival Thursday, chatter about the fate of Miramax Films and its combative co-chief executives, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, rivaled the buzz over the gathering’s movies and stars.

Some fear the brothers Weinstein’s impending corporate divorce from Disney might remove either them or mighty Miramax from the action at Sundance, the festival founded by actor Robert Redford that has turned into independent film’s biggest showcase.

But a Miramax spokesman said Harvey Weinstein plans to be at Sundance this year, and Miramax has fielded a team of buyers scouting for films to acquire and distribute in theaters.

“As always, this year we remain dedicated to finding great independent films for distribution, and we will be just as active in the market,” said the spokesman.

In a much-discussed sign of Miramax’s appetite for acquiring movies, its Dimension Films division, run by Bob Weinstein, recently bought rights to distribute horror flick ”Wolf Creek,” which will premiere at Sundance.

But the big question is what will become of the Weinsteins and Miramax over the next year if, as widely expected, they leave the company they founded to its corporate parent, The Walt Disney Co. and form a new operation of their own.

“They will be players on the independent film production and distribution scene as long as they want,” said Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films Releasing.

But like many others, he admitted he had little idea exactly what the brothers had on their minds.

For years, Miramax and the Weinsteins have been kingmakers at Sundance, buying movies by unknown filmmakers, marketing them with flair and reaping big profits.

‘Clerks’ to questions“Clerks,” directed by Kevin Smith, is a prime example of an ultra low-budget ($25,000) movie that was bought by Miramax and turned into a hit. It was bought at Sundance in 1994 and earned over $3 million at U.S. and Canadian box offices, launching Smith’s career.

But with the Weinsteins nearing the completion of talks to end their days at Miramax, speculation is rampant about what will capture the brothers attention next.

“Nobody seems to know,” said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Entertainment, a film buyer and distributor. “Nobody likes bidding (for movies) against them, but you know what, it’s a huge loss for the independent film world not having Harvey involved,” he added.

One thing is sure, the brothers plan to stay together. In December, Bob Weinstein told Reuters the brothers will form a new company and whatever they do, they will do it jointly.

The Disney negotiations could be wrapped up within a few weeks, but one source with knowledge of the talks said the discussions were complicated by numerous production deals between Miramax, the Weinsteins and various filmmakers.

The Weinsteins have close working relationships with directors including Quentin Tarantino of “Pulp Fiction” fame and Anthony Minghella, who earned an best movie Oscar for Miramax with 1996’s “The English Patient.”

If the Disney talks end soon and the Weinsteins exit, they could be buying and making films within a few months.

As for Miramax, in December Bob Weinstein said it had a slate of films ready to release through 2005. When the Weinsteins depart, it will be up to Disney to decide its fate.