Weinstein: This is the calm before the art-house storm

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Financial Times Los Angeles correspondent Matthew Garrahan, left, interviews Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of The Weinstein Company, at the FT Business of Film Summit in Doha. (Keach Hagey/The National)

Harvey Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax and current head of The Weinstein Company, brought an optimistic spin to the Hollywood's current obsession with so-called "big tent-pole" movies at yesterday's FT Business of Film Summit in Doha. Sure, it may seem like the film industry is devolving into increasingly cynical rehashings of remakes of last summer's blockbuster, but in fact this is creating the perfect conditions for the birth of a new wave of cerebral cinema, he argued.

"This was the exact moment when Miramax emerged," he said. "This was exactly the climate. You had movies like 'Dr Doolittle' being nominated for Best Picture. They were so desperate to put anything up there, that that's the moment when we struck."

Miramax was founded in 1979 but hit its stride in the 1990s, when it brought a slate of independent and art house films such as "Pulp Fiction", "Shakespeare in Love", and "The English Patient" to mainstream multiplexes. (Harvey and his brother, Bob, sold the company to Disney in 1993 but continued running it until 2005, when the split off to form The Weinstein Company.)

Its success during this period spawned a raft of imitators, in the form of art-house or "independent" divisions of the major Hollywood studios such as Paramount Vantage and WIP. Since then, all nine of these divisions have closed.

"I think everybody wanted to come in and take a piece of the pie, and the pie was much smaller than anybody anticipated," he said. "And with the decline of the DVD business, it became a treacherous business. So all the studios closed their divisions. Nine companies have closed in that area."

Speaking to the Financial Times' LA correspondent Matthew Garrahan, he conceded that the trend depressed him, but not enough not to want to dive right back in.

Disney has been shopping for a buyer for what is left of Miramax, after it laid off 50 employees, and absorbed the remaining 20 into into Walt Disney Studios, according to the New York Times' Media Decoder. That leaves a 700-film library with 250 Oscar nominations and 60 wins, which would have been quite a prize before the DVD business went south.

Nonetheless, Weinstein confirmed yesterday that The Weinstein Company is one of the interested buyers.

"I think it's a great asset and it's got my mom and dad's name [a combination of Miriam and Max - ed] , and it's got a wonderful library," he said. "There are a number of bidders left, and we are one of them."

According to Nikki Finke's

, Miramax whittled the field down to six contenders with bids of $600 million last month. The Weinsteins are mostly competing against hedge funds in a game that Finke elsewhere described as an "uphill battle".

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