Sept. 16, 2009 -- What filmmaker wouldn't want their drama to earn Oprah's seal of approval?
But Lee Daniels, the creator of "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire," needs it more than most. He must sell the public on a plunge into a chamber of domestic-abuse horrors visited upon an illiterate Harlem teen (newcomer Gabourey "Gabby" Sidibe). Even a small amount of Winfrey's magical promotional dust would help.
Lucky for him, he is getting a big blast. Winfrey says all it took was for actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry, who is also championing the film, to call her and ask, "Have you heard about this new film?"
Turns out, she had been carrying around a copy that Daniels had sent her two months ago. "She was off trying to get somebody elected," says Daniels. Namely, Barack Obama. "She had other priorities. Whatever."After watching it, Winfrey immediately called Perry for Daniels' number and gave him a ring.
Winfrey recalls, in one of her rare interviews at the film festival here, that when Daniels answered her call, "He said, 'I'm going on stage at Sundance to get an award for my film.' I said, 'Then you should turn off your damn cellphone.' " The film won top honors at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
She has supported "Precious" ever since. "We don't want this film to come out for a week or two and disappear. I want to sit down and see what our strategy will be," including taking advantage of her magazine and TV show.
Winfrey has often spoken about her history as a victim of abuse. What effect did such scenes have on her?
"Both Tyler and Mary J. Blige (who wrote a song for the film) saw themselves in the character. But I didn't see myself there because I think I've actually healed that for myself. That is how you know it is healed. It doesn't do that to you anymore."
Instead, she is enjoying a chance to revisit the ride she took when she was nominated for a supporting Oscar for her first film, 1985's "The Color Purple," in which she played a victim of abuse.
"It was the most fantastic time in my life. That same year, I was able to launch my national show. It was the beginning of all this. To witness this through Gabby, it is like watching a dream come true for somebody else."
How dedicated of an executive producer can she be, given her already hectic schedule?
"It's Sunday and I'm in Toronto. I haven't had a day off since Aug. 1. I can't believe I've been sitting here all day long. But if I can bring some attention and ring the bell a little louder, that's terrific."