B.O. cume: $25 million
Toppers: Bob Berney, president; Rob Schwartz, senior VP & COO; Marian Koltai-Levine, Dennis O’Conner, exec VPs, marketing
New Releases: “Fur” (Nov. 10), “Pan’s Labyrinth” (Dec. 29); 2007: “The Half Life of Timofey Berezin,” “Starter for Ten,” “Rocket Science,” “Mongol,” “La Vie en rose,” “Silk,” “Gracie”

As far as Picturehouse prexy Bob Berney is concerned, the release of Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion” marked the true beginning his newly minted specialty unit. Ensemble pic’s B.O. has crossed $20 million and is so far the biggest grosser for the label.

Picturehouse, the HBO Films/ New Line Cinema co-venture, was announced with great hoopla at Cannes in 2005, but the distrib’s first releases failed to generate much interest, including Paul Reiser comedy “That Thing About My Folks” and “The Notorious Bettie Page.”

The soft-spoken Berney says the first year was all about setting up the company and putting productions into place, and that people can’t yet fairly judge the success of Picturehouse. But some observers think the company should have had more breakouts by now.

This fall, Picturehouse could get the chance to impress naysayers with Steven Shainberg’s Nicole Kidman starrer “Fur.” That’s followed by the December bow of Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” a Cannes favorite. Picturehouse is looking to both pics as awards contenders.

Berney’s credo? Find pics that other specialty distribs and studios don’t want because they’re too difficult to market. “We’re not doing arthouse films. We’re doing films that can connect with a bigger audience,” he says.

“Prairie” is an example of Berney’s strategy: It crossed over, appealing to both the heartland and the two coasts. It also appealed to older auds, a demo that’s starting to be taken more seriously by specialty distribs.

“It’s been a complicated process, but I think we’re ready to hit our stride,” Berney says.

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