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DECADE: Michael Barker & Tom Bernard — Another Ten Years in the Classics World, Part 2

DECADE: Michael Barker & Tom Bernard -- Another Ten Years in the Classics World, Part 2

DECADE: Michael Barker & Tom Bernard -- Another Ten Years in the Classics World, Part 2

by Eugene Hernandez

indieWIRE’s conversation with Tom Bernard and Michael Barker continues…

iW: Look at a year like this year, in the National Board of Review’s top 5
foreign films, you did have of them. And you are having success with “All
About My Mother” now, which is a great movie. And “Run Lola Run.” But I’m
wondering how you feel the marketplace for foreign films has changed, and if
it’s any more challenging, and maybe Miramax has elevated levels of
expectation with the way it handles their films.

Barker: First of all, I think one of the reasons we have this distinction in
foreign language films, is because no one else is doing it to the extent we
are. But our major bread and butter are not foreign language films. You look
at “The Winslow Boy,” you look at “The Opposite of Sex,” “The Spanish
,” all these English-language pictures. Something that I’m very
sensitive to seems to be something that our competitors have always said,
“Oh, they just know how to do foreign films,” which I find pretty shocking.
But as far as the foreign film business in the last ten years, the reason
there’s been a major downturn in the foreign language film business is
three-fold. One is, the ancillary values on foreign language films,
subtitled films, can never begin to approach the ancillary values on an
English-language film that does the same amount of business, it just doesn’t
happen. And what that means is, companies that are very ambitious, and
companies that are very aggressive, they don’t think it’s worth their while
because the ancillary upside is never going to be as big as it would be in
an English language film. Our view is, profit is profit. It’s good, whether
it’s little or big, it’s good. You may not get that incredible breakthrough
in the ancillaries that you might get with an English-language film, but
when the right film comes along, it’s worth having. It adds to your library
and it still generates profit.

The second thing that has greatly effected this downturn in foreign language
films over the decade is the American independent film movement. Ever since
“sex, lies and videotape” and the Sundance Festival made big noise, the
press have spent a lot of the energy that they used to spend on foreign
language films as far as profile to the public, they’ve diverted it to
American independent pictures. I think now, at the end of the decade, the
American independent pictures are going through a trend where, (a) they are
ceasing to become American independent pictures, they’re being made by
studios now, from “Three Kings” to “Magnolia” to “Go.” Those are made by
studios now so they’re not really the same kind of thing. And (b) the
individual foreign language pictures have gotten better artistically and are
more accessible to the audience. And so you have films like “Central
” or “Life is Beautiful” or “All About My Mother,” or this film we
have “East West,” that have commercial value.

But (third) it’s still a business that you have to pick and choose, you
know. If you look at Premiere Magazine, we’re thankful for any coverage we
get for foreign language film in Premiere Magazine, or New York Magazine,
and even when they love the film, they won’t give you the space that would
be given to an English-language picture.

iW: There’s so much talk about digital and internet distribution and all
these changes that people are looking at as the new decade starts. And you
are working at a company that is a technology company

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