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Note from Alex Ben Block: The Wish Tree and The Weinstein’s

Alex Ben Block – senior editor at The Hollywood Reporter – sent me an e-mail this weekend …

Dear John,

During the months covering the run up to the Academy Awards for The Hollywood Reporter, I attended many premieres and events but one image sticks with me: a “Wish Tree” in a ceramic pot with messages written on squares of white paper hanging from the branches.

This Wish Tree was at the Soho House restaurant and club on top of the Luckman Plaza office tower on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.

Each message was by a celebrity at the party that evening, written to and for the children of the world and those in need. That evening‘s host was Montblanc International, which wound up giving UNICEF $2 million it had raised at other events over the past year.

The Wish Trees go on tour and are part of fund raisers. Then, most of them will be auctioned off for the charity Imagine Peace, which is run by Yoko Ono. Oko, who is a performance artist, has used the trees as part of her art for years. She has done Wish Tree events all over the world, including a Peace Tower in Iceland. She was inspired by her childhood when she would see trees in Japan near Buddhist Temples, where people would write their wishes and hang them on the branches. Ono describes it as a collective prayer. This particular tree, I was told, would be auctioned off later this year in the Strawberry Fields area of Central Park in New York City.

The Wish Tree was at a party honoring the Weinstein Company’s Oscar nominees, led by Quentin Tarentino and Christof Waltz, joined by other nominees including Woody Harrelson and newcomer “Precious” star Gabby Sidibe making her first round of Oscar season events. It was a night that both young and not so young Hollywood turned out: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jake Gyllenhaal, Diane Kruger, Nicole Ritchie, Cameron Diaz, Ryan Gosling, Jamie Foxx, Mira Sorvino, Carey Mulligan, Chris Tucker mixed with Marisa Tormei, Gina Gershon, Jackie Bissett, Lawrence Fishburne, Seymour Kassel, Kristin Davis, Tom Ford.

I thought about the Wish Tree later in the evening when I ran into Harvey Weinstein, who founded and heads the Weinstein Company with his brother Bob, with whom he famously ran Miramax in its heyday. Weinstein is known as a very savvy Academy campaigner. His touch at working Oscar magic for many pictures over the past decade, including “The Crying Game,” “Shakespeare In Love,” and “The English Patient,” is legendary.

So I congratulated Weinstein and wished him good luck with “Inglorious Basterds,” which was up for a Best Picture Oscar. With a shrug, sad eyes and a few cryptic words he made it clear he already knew “Basterds” would not win. Then he swept off into the crowd.

I have known Weinstein in triumph and defeat and he continues to re-invent himself. I couldn’t help but respect how once again he knew which way the winds were blowing. In what had been a challenging year for his company, they had still gotten about as many Oscar nominations for their pictures as any of the major studios -- and more than any other indie distributor. This was happening at a time Disney was selling off the remnants of Miramax, a company they could not make work once the Weinstein’s were gone.

His wish may not have come true but Weinstein had proven he was still a campaigner with a keen eye for movies that matter and someone the industry must continue to reckon with. So I am left on the side of Harvey Weinstein, the angels, and Yoko Ono trying hard to imagine peace.

-- Alex

(Off-Ramp producer Queena Kim talked with Yoko Ono when the Wish Tree came to Pasadena in 2008. Here’s the video she produced:)

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