Lotta love in the room Tuesday night at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York for Sony Classics co-chiefs Tom Bernard and Michael Barker, recipients of MOMI’s first annual Envision Award, and who were roasted, but not to the point of combustion. “They hold a record,” their arch-rival Focus CEO James Schamus began, and paused …. was he going to mention Bernard-Barker’s 135 career Academy nominations? A list of filmmakers that includes Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, Michael Haneke and Asghar Farhadi? Their taste? Their balls? Their good looks?
No -- “For flying the largest number of Oscar nominees in coach.”
The Sony boys notorious frugality came in for a few potshots, but so did their devotion to filmmakers they believe in. “I’m really happy to be here,” said Norman Jewison, “considering how much money I lost these guys,” referring to “The Statement” of 2003 (“I guess Americans weren’t all that interested in a story of the Vichy government and its collaboration with the Germans,” Jewison said.) Bob Shaye took what seemed like good-natured issue with Bernard’s having omitted his early years at New Line from the evening’s official biography (“Barker wrote that!” Bernard protested from his seat).
The speakers included Candice Bergen, whose late husband Louis Malle was distributed by SPC; Jonathan Demme, Jennie Lumet, “Capote” director Bennett Miller (who regaled the crowd with a 15-minute reiteration of dream he once had, and should have forgotten), and a very gracious Marcia Gay Harden, who thanked Barker-Bernard for her “Pollock” Oscar. And who was that guy in the outerwear shuffling onto the MOMI stage? "Capote" Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman, who, like Jewison, praised the Sony boys not for their raging successes but for the less-than-sure-things they’d courageously backed over the years.
“They had two of the most depressing films I’ve ever done. God, they were suicidal!” Seymour said, referring to “Love, Liza” (“my wife kills herself…”) and “Owning Mahoney,” which was about a hopeless, inveterate gambler.
Seymour’s appearance in particular meant a lot to Bernard. “He never shows up anywhere. He doesn’t like anybody!” Barker joked. “But he called this place and said he wanted to be part of this. Which was pretty great.”
There seemed little question that the best, and certainly most succinct, speaker of the evening was Schamus, who has worked with Sony Pictures Classics over the years as a producer (with Todd Haynes “Safe” for instance) and now, as head of Focus, is one of their principal rivals in the world of indieforeignarthouse cinema. “I find myself in the strange position,” he quipped, “of being able to appreciate both their success and their failures.”