There is a small island just a short vaporetta ride away from Venice proper called the Lido where the Venice Film Festival takes place. On the Lido, it is the Excelsior Hotel where everyone seems to congregate. I suppose it would be like a fancy version of the Marriot at Sundance or the Croisette at Cannes. If you sit in the lobby at the Excelsior, you are destined to see everyone who has come for business (as they check your credentials before letting you in the lobby) and judging by some of the outfits, some who have come to play as well (although I’m not sure how they get into the hotel… maybe through the beach entrance.)
This past trip, several colleagues and I were enjoying the scenery in the lobby when through a sea of Italians, I saw a fleeting glance of something familiar. It was a face I have seen in Variety photos and the occasional acceptance speech at the Oscars, but there he was, in the flesh… Harvey Weinstein.
Now, SAGIndie is at the Venice Film Festival because we sponsor a program with the American Pavilion, where film students attend the festival and we program a speaker series with industry professionals. We contact people in advance of the festival, but are always looking for people we might run into at the festival and ask to participate as a speaker. Last year, a lovely crossing of paths in the lobby with Tilda Swinton provided for a beautiful one hour talk.
I knew all of my colleagues were looking at me, thinking, Harvey Weinstein as a speaker would be the greatest coup of all time. Imagine the photo ops and the bragging rights. I pretty much knew there was absolutely no way I was going to go up to him. There are people that you never really expect to speak to or, for that matter, want to even know you exist.
A brief aside – I’m actually a Harvey convert after having seen the directors cut of Cinema Paradiso made substantially better by what I had once believed to be the evil hand of Harvey. He saved Cinema Paradiso from a long and drawn out plot and made it the brilliant film that I hold so dear.
So we stared at him talking to a very beautiful young woman. Jackie snapped photos (see below) and we discussed how there was just no way I would ever go over there. But then it happened. He started walking over to us, a straight line directly towards our table. I don’t know if he thought maybe we were Americans and he knew us, or wanted us to stop the photos, but he was just standing there looking at us. Darrien asked if we could help him but he didn’t answer.
Then, it just came out. From some deep well of security that I only tap into during the most uncomfortable moments I did it, “Excuse me, Mr. Weinstein may I ask you a question, I’m Alexis Fish from SAGIndie, we program speakers every year for film students who attend the festival and I would love to…”
The pretty woman we were watching him speak to walked up next to him and asked him something. He turned around and walked away with her as quickly as he had arrived (note: we wound up seeing her on the red carpet just minutes later as it turns out she was a famous European actress.)
It was perfect. We were all kind of shocked by what had just happen and started laughing as it really was a bit surreal. Of course he turned mid-sentence and walked away. He still is Harvey Weinstein, but I survived it, completely unscathed. So, now I have an opening line for my next meeting with Harvey, when I’m trying to get him to buy my feature, I’ll mention the time we chatted at the Excelsior in Venice.
I just hope this doesn’t show up on a Google alert or something.