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In a film career spanning 25 years, Bob Berney has risen from the manager of an art house theater in Texas to successful runs at IFC Films, Newmarket and now Picturehouse. “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (2002), “Monster” (2003), “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) and “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006) are just a few of the productions passed on by others that Berney turned into boxoffice gold. He is this year’s recipient of The Hollywood Reporter’s Indie Mogul Award, to be awarded at a party Jan. 20 in Park City. He spoke with THR’s Steven Zeitchik.
The Hollywood Reporter: What did you learn most from your early days in the Texas theater business?
Bob Berney: I think it was an appreciation of the audience on a grassroots level. To put on a show back then and come up with a program — it helps you never forget how to connect with the audience.
THR: “Memento” (2000) was your breakout hit. How do you view it eight years later?
Berney: It was the kind of movie that couldn’t get a distribution deal, and I told Will (Tyrer) and Chris (Ball, of Newmarket) that you can put up your own money. It showed you can go around the system.
THR: Do you think the business is in better shape now?
Berney: There’s a bigger audience and more ways to finance the films and more screens to play them on. That said, there’s a glut of product and it’s hard to keep movies in theaters. That’s a problem, but it’s kind of a high-class problem.
THR: Are there films in particular that stand out for you?
Berney: You love all your children, of course, but there’s always been something very special to me about “Whale Rider” (2003). To have a small foreign film break out like that and touch people — more people call about that movie and say it changed them than they do about any other. And then of course there’s nothing like the thrill of “Passion.” From the operations side, it showed we can compete with the biggest studios and have the numbers go through the roof.
THR: You must have had a moment when so many people were attacking the movie that it felt a little scary.
Berney: There was the moment where we said, “We’re jumping over a cliff.” But it ultimately worked out very well, I think, because there was a real partnership with the filmmaker. I think that’s what I’ve learned most from being in the distribution business.
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