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Bob and Jeanne Berney depart FilmDistrict

Duo to continue duties until March 1

Bob and Jeanne Berney will exit as the top distribution and marketing execs at FilmDistrict, a sudden shift for the fledgling distrib that’s packing up its New York office and moving all operations to Los Angeles. The Berneys, who joined Graham King’s operation a little over a year ago, said they want to remain in New York. They’ll continue handling FilmDistrict releases until March 1, including “The Rum Diary,” which bowed to just $5.1 million last weekend despite its ambitious wide release, and Angelina Jolie’s “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which bows Dec. 23.

Sources say the Berneys had occasionally clashed with FilmDistrict CEO Peter Schlessel, though Bob Berney told Variety the trio operated smoothly together.

Schlessel said in a statement: “This consolidation was necessary due to inherent difficulties of having our production, acquisition and business divisions in Los Angeles, with our distribution and marketing team in New York.”

The distrib has been on the lookout for new financing, but only informal talks have taken place at this point.

FilmDistrict saw success earlier this year with “Insidious” and “Soul Surfer,” both of which were acquired by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions. (Sony’s TriStar Pictures distribbed the latter pic, with FilmDistrict co-marketing.)

Summer releases “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and “Drive” saw modest-to-OK results.

Bob Berney denied reports that FilmDistrict went overboard on marketing, telling Variety that the company was “pretty conservative with our marketing spend. I think we spent close to or under what other mini-majors spend.”

The Berneys’ abrupt exit echoed Bob Berney’s sudden exit from short-lived specialty distribber Apparition in May 2010 on the eve of the Cannes Film Festival. A few months later, he moved over to FilmDistrict as King’s distribution operation aimed to seize the opportunity created by the major studios’ shift away from handling smaller pics.

Known for overseeing the distribution of “The Passion of the Christ,” “Memento” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” Berney later headed specialty distrib Picturehouse, which was shuttered by Warner Bros. two years ago.

The New York employees, of which there are more than 20, have been offered the opportunity to stay in their current jobs through the end of the year. FilmDistrict would not comment on whether those employees were given the option to relocate.

(Rachel Abrams contributed to this report.)

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