'Tree of Life' will get Apparition off the ground

Bob Berney, Bill Pohlad unveil plans for distrib'n venture

NEW YORK -- River Road Entertainment's Bill Pohlad and distribution guru Bob Berney announced their new distribution venture Thursday, saying that the company would be named Apparition and that it would release Terrence Malick's anticipated opus "The Tree of Life."

The company also said it had pacted with Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions Group for all domestic ancillary rights; the Peter Schlessel division will handle home video and other platforms.

"Life," which River Road is producing, adds to Apparition's previously announced title, the Jane Campion period drama "Bright Star," which premiered at the Festival de Cannes. Apparition said Thursday that Campion's film, which examines the romance between John Keats and Fanny Brawne in the 19th century, would open on Sept. 18, shortly after its North American premiere at the Toronto international Film Festival.

Malick's fifth film and first since 2005's colonial drama "The New World," "Life" has been the subject of much speculation in filmmaker and fan circles. Some believe the movie, which stars Sean Penn and Brad Pitt, to be a coming-of-age tale set in the Midwest, where Malick comes from. Apparition did not announce a date for the pic, which Malick has been editing for some time.

Several of the execs and staff members who will be working at Apparition were announced on Thursday, including Picturehouse acquisitions veteran Sara Rose, as well as Dan Lange, Bill Thompson and John Lange in the distribution department and Jeanne R. Berney, Kirk Iwanowski and Molly Albright in marketing.

Pohlad and Berney created the new theatrical releasing company to be what a statement described as a "fiercely independent, artist friendly distributor."

Pohlad, a financier and producer whose River Road is behind movies such as "Into the Wild" and upcoming Joan Jett pic "The Runaways," said that the pair were building a company that has "a sensitivity and passion for the work as well as an ability to bring it to the marketplace with ingenuity and creativity."

Berney has a reputation for taking filmmaker-driven fare and connecting it to diverse audiences. In previous guises he helped turn structurally complex mystery "Memento," Mel Gibson historical drama "The Passion of the Christ" and ethnic-flavored comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" into breakout hits.

At Picturehouse, the company he founded in 2005 as a joint venture between HBO Films and New Line, he scored with movies such as Guillermo del Toro's historical fantasy "Pan's Labyrinth" and Edith Piaf biopic "La Vie En Rose." Time Warner disbanded Picturehouse in the spring of 2008,

Berney said Apparition's goal would be discernment on the acquisitions front and careful strategic thinking on the distribution side.

"Bill and I are creating a company where the art of filmmaking is truly a priority," he said. ""The birth of a new company that works in concert with artists while employing creative marketing strategies is a winning combination and is the essence of Apparition."