In Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein is known as a man who never takes no for an answer.
The movie mogul co-founded Miramax, turned arthouse movies such as Sex, Lies and Videotape and The Crying Game into gold, and then came close to bankruptcy before selling the studio. Weinstein also is notorious for changing the way the Oscar game is played with his mix of charisma and savvy.
For Canadian director Barry Avrich, Weinstein is a fascinating figure. A Toronto documentary maker who loves Hollywood and believes he has learned at Weinstein's feet, he set out to explore the ways of a consummate power broker with Unauthorized Harvey Weinstein.
'It's called unauthorized not because it's scandalous — it's called unauthorized because he didn't participate' — Barry Avrich, documentary maker
"Harvey Weinstein's this fantastic enigma, this larger-than- life man," Avrich said in an interview with CBC News. "He's huge, he comes from a tough background, the exterior is extraordinarily gruff but he has the sensitivity of a swan when comes to making some of the great monumental foreign and indie films ever."
Avrich's documentary has its world premiere Friday at Bell Lightbox in Toronto and then is scheduled for screening on HBO Canada.
The documentary maker, whose previous projects include a 2005 doc about Lew Wasserman titled The Last Mogul, had a major problem with making the film — Weinstein wouldn't co-operate.
"I'm not making this film as a hatchet job. It's called unauthorized not because it's scandalous — it's called unauthorized because he didn't participate," Avrich said. "This is a film for people who love Hollywood and Hollywood stories."
He made the documentary by talking to the many who have worked with Weinstein — actors, directors, producers and others. Not everyone would co-operate, in part because of Weinstein's reputation for ranting and yelling when he didn't get his own way.
"Harvey's personality is part of [his] brand — screaming, yelling, rebellious, break the rules and at same time never never taking no for an answer, mixed in with alchemy of charm and seduction," Avrich said.
With Weinstein now building a new studio and his profile growing this year with the success of The King's Speech, a British film for which he picked up North American rights, people in Hollywood hesitated to talk about him on camera, in case they end up working for him in future, Avrich said. Among those who do talk are Hollywood insiders such as Matt Damon and Martin Scorsese.
Weinstein's story begins on the streets of Buffalo, where he and his brother Bob were concert promoters before they got into stage musicals and movies.
Their Miramax studio, begun in the late 1970s, began to be associated with good indie and foreign films such as The Thin Blue Line, Good Will Hunting and Life is Beautiful. Miramax won its first best picture Oscar for The English Patient in 1996, followed by Shakespeare in Love. Weinstein also is credited with discovering filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino, who made a fortune for Miramax with Pulp Fiction.
Victim of own success
"Everybody has a dark side, faults, but at the end of the day, he brought film to a generation of people that would have not gone to see foreign films, indie films," Avrich said. "You would not have The English Patient and all these films cross over the way they did. He taught me extraordinary marketing lessons."
The documentary shows Weinstein as the victim of his own success, overpaying for movies that only drew limited audiences and entering a disastrous relationship with Disney, where he was in constant conflict with CEO Michael Eisner.
The Weinstein brothers split from Miramax and Disney slowly wound down, then sold the studio. The Weinsteins started again, with a new studio and a renewed focus on indie and foreign fare, including their return to Oscar territory with Inglorious Basterds.
Return to indie, foreign film
"Harvey Weinstein is returning to his metier which is picking up and distributing indie films and knowing how to market and shape them, that's his golden touch," Avrich said.
"If he continues to empire build or try that again, that's where he lost focus and wanted to be a Rupert Murdoch or Barry Diller and build empires. He admitted himself, he lost focus."
With credits on The King's Speech, Blue Valentine and The Fighter, the Weinsteins have 12 nominations for Academy Awards this season.
And no one fights an Oscar race like Harvey Weinstein — everyone in Hollywood understands that.
"Harvey understood that you could win by one vote and you can lose by one vote. He didn't wait for people to come into the theatres. There's 6,000 academy members, he went to them — if they're in the motion picture country retirement home he had screenings there," Avrich said.
"We're seeing this again this year with The King's Speech up against The Social Network. We saw it many years ago with Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan. He went out and redefined the Oscar rules."