Barry Avrich’s second Weinstein doc doesn’t go far enough

Local director takes down Hollywood's now most famous abuser of power for sexual gain – but drops the ball on the #MeToo movement


THE RECKONING: HOLLYWOOD’S WORST KEPT SECRET (Barry Avrich, Canada). 90 minutes. Screens Saturday (May 5), 6 pm at TIFF 1. Rating: NN


You have to hand it to Barry Avrich. The guy has chutzpah.

After failing to get the essential story of exactly who Harvey Weinstein is in 2011’s Unauthorized: The Harvey Weinstein Project, his first crack at the movie mogul, he’s created a second portrait with The Reckoning: Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret, in which the truth comes out. Weinstein is (okay, allegedly) a sexual predator of epic proportions.

Proof of Avrich’s clout is the fact that anyone would finance this pic after he botched the first attempt.

As for the film itself, it’s an expert takedown of Hollywood’s now most famous abuser of power for sexual gain and a way too cursory overview of the #MeToo movement.

Avrich and his team spoke to Hollywood reporters and insiders, who dished on Weinstein’s famous bullying tactics and sleazy strategies. Many of Weinstein’s victims, including reporter Lauren Sivan and actor Melissa Sagemiller – who were on Saturday’s panel – shared their experiences in raw, emotional and compelling interviews.

Though it doesn’t tell us much we don’t already know, it does paint a portrait of a monster whose behaviour went unchecked for decades. Other alleged abusers, including James Toback, Bill O’Reilly and, via an interview with Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen, are also name-checked.

And one fascinating section makes some pointed observations about non-disclosure agreements, which have played a key role in fostering the silence on Weinstein and other predators. America’s most famous lawyer for sexual abuse survivors, Gloria Allred, has facilitated many of those NDAs – making a ton of money off of them in the process.

This film was shot in just a few months, as the central story was morphing and expanding every day, and rushed through post-production to meet Hot Docs’ deadline. Credit editor Michèle Hozer with wrestling the thing to the ground.

But the race through post-production leads to some series missteps in the lengthy section on the #MeToo movement. Attempts to harness complicated arguments and observations about sexual assault and activism lead to some ludicrous conflation.

Matt Damon worries that the #MeToo movement likens groping to sexual assault, as if any anti-rape activist doesn’t know the difference between a bum pat and Weinsteinesque abuse. The film makes mention of the quasi-resistance that’s come from the likes of Margaret Atwood and Catherine Deneuve – Avrich has never been able to resist an icon – making the never proven claim that there’s a rift between younger and older women on the issue. 

On the Atwood file, the pic seizes on her worry that, after their accusers came forward, all those guys lost their reputations and careers without “due process.” There’s almost zero discussion of how that “due process” through the justice system has failed to make sexual assailants responsible for their crimes. We’re talking 2 per cent conviction rate. 

And there’s nothing about rape culture.

Camera-friendly lawyer Marie Henein also appears – she’s acting for Jane Doe in the Jane Doe vs Harvey Weinstein case – which will horrify many people. Never mind the contradiction between her articulate support for #MeToo and her spirited legal defense of Jian Ghomeshi, who goes unmentioned.

Most egregiously, columnist Margaret Wente is portrayed as an objective observer for the #MeToo movement, warning that a backlash is inevitable. In fact, she was one of that backlash’s most outspoken champions, asking in one of several commentaries on the subject in print and on TV that women turn the volume down on sexual harassment.

But, unlike his other docs on controversial figures, Filthy Gorgeous: The Bob Guccione Story and Show Stopper: The Theatrical Life of Garth Drabinsky, Avrich pulls no punches when it comes to Weinstein.

Still, this film is subtitled Hollywood’s Worst Kept Secret and, ironically, the first 20 minutes are devoted to the fact everybody has known about Weinstein for years. So the question still stands: why didn’t Avrich get the story for his 2011 film?

I asked him that question at the Q&A and, after moaning about how Weinstein buried that film, he allowed that he’d heard rumours but couldn’t get anyone to talk. In his Star piece he talked about “hitting a wall” after having “made a few calls.”

Really? A few calls? Where’s the creativity? Where were the hidden cameras or the recorders? Where was the persistence? Where’s that kind of chutzpah?

There are scores of filmmakers at this year’s festival who put their lives at risk to make their films.

Avrich is definitely not one of them.

susanc@nowtoronto.com | @susangcole

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