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Film auteurs find their champions

Leadership award: Michael Barker and Tom Bernard

Over the past 25 years, independent film companies have come and gone, but the partnership of Michael Barker and Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics (and before that UA and Orion) has never faltered, resulting in an enduring library of quality titles from filmmakers as varied as Francois Truffaut, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Louis Malle and, more recently, Wong Kar Wai, Zhang Yimou and Pedro Almodovar, with whom they’ve partnered eight times, including this year’s Oscar entry from Spain, “Volver.”

The key to their success, says Barker, is two minds, one objective. “This is what Tom and I have always wanted to do (both started booking films in college), to release auteur-driven films to the widest possible audience.”

Not every film has reached the $100 million-plus heights of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” but even last year’s “Capote” was able to command a gross of about $30 million through a careful platform-release campaign. And even if some films don’t achieve gross potential, they often have a long shelf life on DVD and other ancillary media.

As to who does what, it depends on the movie, Bernard observes. Both are capable of handling the marketing and distribution aspects of a particular film. “But each movie is different, like a political campaign, and we try to come up with an entirely new strategy every time,” he says.

In the case of a movie like “SLC Punk,” it was Bernard who led the charge, since Barker was not necessarily a fan of punk music. Barker busied himself with coming up with a clever and inventive marketing campaign for the film, and the result was that the 1998 release is a strong library title, still generating healthy DVD sales to this day.

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