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Why Film Festivals Are Magnets For Sexual Assault

Radiowest / KUER

It’s been nearly a month since allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Hollywood megaproducer Harvey Weinstein first surfaced. More than 60 women have now come forward to accuse him. Many of those allegations were said to have happened at film festivals — Toronto, Cannes, and even Sundance, which happens in Park City every January.

Actress Rose McGowan has said Weinstein raped her during the festival in 1997. Another actress, Louisette Geiss, said the Miramax producer exposed himself to her at a meeting in his hotel room during the Sundance festival in 2008.

Two women—veteran Sundance attendees—shared why they believe film festivals lend themselves to opportunities for sexual assault and harassment.

Film Buyer’s Markets
Geralyn Dreyfous has produced dozens of documentaries that have been featured at Sundance.  She said there’s one thing that sets it apart from most other films festivals.

“There are only five festivals in the world that are buyer’s markets,” Dreyfous said.

Sundance is one. So are some of the other big ones like Cannes and Toronto.

These film market festivals mean that not only are there independent filmmakers and talent hoping to be discovered, but there are also the powerful people that can discover them and fund their project… all in one place.

Sundance marquee at Egyptian Theatre.
Credit Nicole Nixon / KUER

“Because of the high concentration of the industry, there’s a high concentration of meetings that take place,” Dreyfous said.  

In all the chaotic scheduling, it’s easy to see why so many women described situations like this happening at a film festival:

“Harvey wants to have a meeting with you and you’re trying to pitch your next project. You say to your A-list actor, ‘You’ve got to come to dinner with me so that he knows you have passion about this project.’ And then all of a sudden something gets switched, dinner gets canceled, and you’re the actor that gets invited to a private meeting.”

Hotel Room Meetings

“Some people say, ‘why ever even go with a man to a hotel room?’” said Christy Karras, an entertainment and travel writer who’s covered Sundance for more than a decade.

“But in the film business, and especially at film festivals, a lot of business gets done in hotel rooms. There literally is no other place where people can speak privately about business.”

According to Dreyfous, some business, like bidding on film rights, happens over the phone. But it’s true that having a private space to meet is rare.

“Going back to someone's rental condo or to a hotel room I think has been pretty much industry standard,” Dreyfous said. “Certainly, quiet rooms or restaurants in hotels that aren't noisy are premium space.”

Both Dreyfous and Karras say that for people at Sundance—and not just actresses, but aspiring directors, producers, set designers, makeup artists—anyone who wants an opportunity in the film industry see major film festivals as really their only shot to get in front of people who can launch their career.

“It’s so hard to get in front of these people, to get a chance to talk to these people. It feels as if there’s a lot of opportunity in the air. So, for that reason, there’s a lot of excitement. Also for these powerful men, there’s a lot of opportunity for them in other ways.”  

A-List Parties

And then there are the festival parties.

“These parties often start very late at night,” Karras said. “They involve a lot of free alcohol. They involve all the things you think of as happening in Hollywood.”

Karras says besides the opportunity and desperation at film festivals, there’s something else. She believes the altitude at Park City adds another little layer—that 7,000 feet above sea level, alcohol’s effects are magnified.

Plus, Karras says that Sundance doesn’t even like these parties going on.  

“Sundance actually detests the kind of parties that we’re talking about and it wishes they would just go away,” she said.

“But they are a part of film festivals. What happens is an entity—maybe a casting agency, a vodka company, or maybe several companies get together and they sponsor a party that is associated with and happens at the same time as Sundance, but is not an official Sundance party.”

Credit Radiowest / KUER

Sundance typically hosts panel discussions and lower-key networking events. The film institute has tried to crack down on these parties, but “they can’t control all of Park City when the film festival is going on,” Karras said.

The Sundance Institute declined an interview for this story. In a statement, it condemned Weinstein’s behavior, and praised his alleged victims for coming forward.

But Sundance hasn’t yet said what — or if — it’s planning to address this obvious issue during the upcoming festival in January.

Geralyn Dreyfous said she wouldn’t be surprised if there are panel discussions about sexual harassment in the industry.

Credit Twitter screenshot

Some people are talking about organizing a rally similar to the Women’s March that took place during the festival earlier this year — of course, Harvey Weinstein took part in that march.

“The industry has to have a standard that doesn’t tolerate this kind of behavior and doesn’t look the other way,” said Dreyfous.

But it’s not an easy fix and it certainly won’t happen overnight.

The Sundance Film Festival is still more than two months away, but it will be the first major festival since the Weinstein scandal first broke, and the film world will be watching to see how it responds. 

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