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"Push" Lawsuits; Lionsgate, Weinsteins, Cinetic At Odds over Sundance Sale

By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire February 5, 2009 at 5:31AM

In the wake of this week's high profile Lionsgate acquisition announced by iW several days ago, The Weinstein Company is publicly fighting to try and get Lee Daniels' Sundance '09 film "Push: Based on The Novel by Sapphire," claiming they had an agreement in place to buy the triple award-winning movie. Lionsgate and TWC filed lawsuits against each other yesterday, with TWC also suing seller Cinetic Media. Each side is claiming a deal for the movie, while Cinetic today respectfully told indieWIRE that Harvey Weinstein is over-reaching.
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In the wake of this week's high profile Lionsgate acquisition announced by iW several days ago, The Weinstein Company is publicly fighting to try and get Lee Daniels' Sundance '09 film "Push: Based on The Novel by Sapphire," claiming they had an agreement in place to buy the triple award-winning movie. Lionsgate and TWC filed lawsuits against each other yesterday, with TWC also suing seller Cinetic Media. Each side is claiming a deal for the movie, while Cinetic today respectfully told indieWIRE that Harvey Weinstein is over-reaching.

"TWC reached a firm agreement for the rights to 'Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire'," Weinstein Company attorney Bert Fields said in the statement, claiming breach of contract and inducing breach of contract. "Behind their backs Cinetic Media tried to make a better deal with Lionsgate," he said. TWC has also enlisted David Boies in the action against Lionsgate and Cinetic.

"Lionsgate closed a North American distribution deal for 'Push', and the sellers confirmed that no other agreement was in place," a Lionsgate spokesperson countered today in a statement, adding, "The Weinstein Company seems to have a different belief."

"We respect Harvey tremendously," Cinetic partners John Sloss and Bart Walker told indieWIRE a few moments ago, in a joint statement. "In this case he is over-reaching. There was never a deal with The Weinstein Company, there were numerous material unresolved points."

Cinetic repped the film, closing a deal with Lionsgate at Cinetic's New York office late Friday night, according to insiders at the time. The North American rights pact, which includes the support of Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Productions and Tyler Perry's 34th Street banner, was pegged at a $5.5 million sale. Late Friday, after indieWIRE caught wind that the deal was closing, a Lionsgate rep declined to confirm the sale saying that a pact was premature and still being negotiated. On Monday, LGF announced its acquisition highlighting the support of Winfrey and Perry.

Bert Fields' TWC statement noted that Lionsgate filed a pre-emptive suit against TWC yesterday. "This is obvious forum-shopping by a party that knew TWC was going to sue," the Fields statement continued, "We will deal with it appropriately."

"With this filing, we are simply protecting our rights and seeking a judicial declaration that The Weinstein Company does not have any right, title or interest in 'Push: Based on the Novel by Sapphire'," the Lionsgate spokesperson said.

An insider close to the deal today noted that TWC was understood to be pursuing a worldwide deal for the movie but Cinetic brokered a pact for North American rights. International rights to the movie are going on the market here at the European Film Market in Berlin via Elephant Eye Films.

Buzz about the suit is enhanced by the recent executive shuffle between the two companies. In a move announced last week, longtime Lionsgate President of Theatrical Films Tom Ortenberg recently left the company to join The Weinstein Company as its President of Theatrical Films.

The Hollywood Reporter noted that the Lionsgate suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, preceded TWC's action yesterday. The trade paper reported, "The moves were seen as an attempt by each side to stake out jurisdiction. Often in cases featuring identical parties and issues, the case will be heard in the venue where the first lawsuit is filed; this instance is murkier, however, since both lawsuits were filed on the same day."

For some, the situation evokes a 2005 situation at the Toronto International Film Festival surrounding the rights to Jason Reitman's "Thank You For Smoking," although insiders claim the situation is quite different. That deal, brokered by William Morris, played out after Searchlight announced a deal and then Paramount claimed it had secured a deal for the film. Searchlight prevailed and released the film.

Produced by Lee Daniels, and Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness of Smokewood Entertainment Group (S.E.G.), the "Push" was executive produced by Lisa Cortes and Tom Heller, from a script by Damien Paul, based on Sapphire's 1996 book. The film stars Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe, Paula Patton, Mo'Nique, Mariah Carey, Sherri Shepherd and Lenny Kravitz. The pact is the second collaboration between Lionsgate and Daniels, who produced the company's Oscar-winning "Monster's Ball."

This article is related to: Acquisitions