Indie Kingpin Bob Berney to Resume Cash, Oscar-Hoarding?
Conventional industry wisdom doesn't exactly point to 2009 as the ideal year to open a new distribution shop. There are exceptions, I guess -- maybe you've somehow wrested the James Bond franchise away from Sony or enlisted Will Smith to work for free. Or, more realistically, you're Bob Berney, the bona-fide genius who's reportedly about to reenter the indie mix. And it's about time.
The last anyone saw of Berney -- whose marketing savvy made unlikely blockbusters out of The Passion of the Christ and My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Oscar fare out of Monster, Whale Rider and La Vie en Rose -- he was carting a box of belongings from his defunct mini-major Picturehouse. Well, that's not exactly true; he was out and about at this year's Sundance Film Festival as well, prompting speculation among media and industry alike as to when, where and how he might rejoin the fray. Eight months earlier, Time Warner had pulled the plugs at both Picturehouse and Warner Independent Pictures; word at the time had him declining a merger of the two or any type of power-sharing arrangement with WIP's own boss Polly Cohen.
Now, finally, today's Hollywood Reporter has the latest news of Berney's whereabouts: At the bargaining table for the biopic-romance Bright Star, Jane Campion's first film in six years. The presumptive backer is River Road Entertainment, which itself co-produced Terrence Malick's upcoming (and as-yet-undistributed) The Tree of Life with Brad Pitt's Plan B shingle. Neither party has confirmed the union, though THR also offers the likelihood of Star debuting next month at Cannes -- no doubt the ideal launching pad for Berney's brand of buzz-building prestige.
Perhaps the only surprise here is that it didn't happen sooner. Despite some sizable box-office bruises (Fur, El Cantante, Run Fatboy Run), Berney's singular art-house touch fashioned the foreign-language entries La Vie and Pan's Labyrinth into both critical and commercial awards-season successes. (He didn't fare too poorly either with Kit Kittredge: An American Girl.) His new partners will expect at least as much with their own offerings this year and beyond, not to mention some serious outside-the-box advancements in digital distribution. At the very least, if history is any indication, Bright Star leading lady Abbie Cornish should circle March 7, 2010, and start considering her Oscar-night attire. She's in good hands.