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An Interview With Tom Bernard Co-President - Sony Pictures Classics

February 18, 2015

Asbury Park Zest: You stand to be on the red carpet all Awards Season with WHIPLASH, FOXCATCHER, LOVE IS STRANGE, MR. TURNER, STILL ALICE, MERCHANTS OF DOUBT and RED ARMY – perhaps your best stable of films ever in a single year.  What draws you to a particular film? 

 

Tom Bernard: I am always seeking to find a film that fits and reflects the Sony Classics brand, which is basically quality films from around the world, and this is defined by our films during the last 22 years – starting with HOWARD’S END and ending with BLUE JASMINE last year – and a million in between.

 

To me, it is a film that will connect to the culture of the moment. I can see who the audience will be for it, and see how to reach that audience, and know the different types of people who comprise that audience. I know what they read and what their likes are as well as what is timely and in the moment. 

 

Asbury Park Zest: What are your top three favorite films of all time? 

 

Tom Bernard: There is a film called WAKE IN FRIGHT, released in 1971. It is an Australian film directed by Ted Kotcheff.  It’s basically about a guy who has had a really bad summer vacation. I love the story, and the way it is told, which is the key for all films. Ted, who has done numerous movies, tells his story in such a creepy way, it will haunt you forever. Never see it with a hangover. 

 

Another one, LENINGRAD COWBOYS GO AMERICA, released in 1989, comes from a director from Finland, Aki Kaurismaki. It is a story about a band called Leningrad Cowboys, who travel from Finland to play at a wedding in Galveston, Texas. It’s a larger than life comedy, and Kaurismaki is
a minimalist director with dry humor. 

 

My third choice is NIGHTMARE ALLEY, a film noir from 1947. Directed by Edmund Goulding, it stars Tyrone Power, who is at the  top of his own world working as a sideshow mentalist. He has an illicit relationship with a female mentalist, and descends into an alcoholic haze, and becomes the geek in the show – biting heads off of chickens. 

 

Asbury Park Zest: Do you watch TV, and if so, what do you particularly like? 

 

Tom Bernard: I really don’t watch TV that much, with the exception of consistently
watching BOARDWALK EMPIRE because I’m a big fan of Woodrow Wilson in that era in New Jersey. Historically the show is pretty much right on with all the little references of politics and the world at that time. 

 

Asbury Park Zest: How has Asbury Park changed since you were first living on Cookman Ave after college?

 

Tom Bernard:  I was downtown in 1970 after the riots and there was not much going on. When the media decided to write another sensational story saying that the riots will come out to suburbs, Asbury became a national headline. Every year after that, I would go to the boardwalk on the 4th of July, and there’d be fewer people until one year I was the only guy. It has hit bottom and has bounced back. When I first came here in the early 1960s, it was a cultural center with beatniks, a thriving gay community and coffeehouses. Now it’s coming back as the go-to cultural center in the region. This energy is what keeps it alive. Remember, Asbury Park in the 1930s was one of the most desired destinations in the world.

 

Asbury Park Zest: What’s your favorite thing about Asbury Park?

 

Tom Bernard: My favorite thing about Asbury Park is The Stone Pony and the beer garden. The Stone Pony is the last connection to the past, but it’s the future, too. It has risen from the ashes and is helping Asbury Park to rise again to become one of the top alternative cultural centers in New Jersey.

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