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Presentation of the Légion d’Honneur to Michael Barker and Tom Bernard

Published on September 24, 2014
Speech by M. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development¹
New York, September 22, 2014

Tom Bernard,

Michael Barker,

Usually, in a Legion of Honour ceremony, every recipient receives a separate speech. I will break the rule – please forgive me – and here is why.

Of course, outside the movie business, you enjoy very different activities. Tom Bernard – correct me if I’m wrong –, you love to go fishing on Block Island, just a few miles off the Rhode Island coast.
You also are a hockey and golf fan and player – and according to our most recent information, your handicap is 14. Michael Barker, you are a voracious reader who adores Shakespeare. You studied acting – which I can imagine was quite enriching – and you still go to the theatre religiously.

But when it comes to filmmaking, it is another story. Sometimes you face differences in taste, but it is the exception rather than the rule. You are not only two of the longest-reigning executives of the “arthouse” cinema market, but also close friends who have now been working together for more than 30 years! Thus, I choose to extend the two awards with one speech, as it is an echo of your partnership, success and deep friendship. I hope our audience will agree that this is the most fitting way to celebrate you!

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According to The Hollywood Reporter, you are the “Kings of the Art House” – in other words, the co-founders and co-presidents of Sony Pictures Classics. Since its creation, your company has been ranked among the top “arthouse” film distributors in the United States.

Mr Barker, Mr Bernard, you met in 1979 at Films Incorporated, a company that used to sell movies to colleges and prisons. At Christmas, you pulled each other’s names out of the hat, in accordance with the “Secret Santa” tradition, and had to exchange presents. Tom presented Michael with the book The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson. Michael, you gave Tom some hockey equipment but unfortunately, as Tom later said in an interview, “it did not fit”. It was a promising start to this now 35-year-old friendship!

In 1980, together, you joined United Artists Classics, where your first acquisition was a French picture – The Last Metro by François Truffaut.
After you distributed his film, Truffaut went around the world telling everyone: “You ought to go with these people!” You also handled Diva by Jean-Jacques Beineix, and from these very first deals, your reputation in France was secured. Since that time, you have had a unique place in the realm of French cinema, distributing the largest number of French films in America annually. Today, we honour two great friends of France who have efficiently contributed to the diffusion of French cinema.

In 1983, you co-founded Orion Classics, and throughout the 80s distributed 25 French films including some of the decade’s most renowned works: Bertrand Blier’s Too Beautiful for You, Au revoir les enfants by Louis Malle, five Eric Rohmer movies, including Pauline at the Beach, and many more.

In 1992, you co-founded Sony Pictures Classics, your home, along with Marcie Bloom. With your permission, I quote a rival of yours, James Schamus, the founder of Focus Features, who stated: “The past 20 years of American film culture would be unrecognizable were it not for their passion, their smarts, their taste, their vision and their pure love of independent world cinema”. Tonight, we acknowledge the truth in this statement.

You have often said that you really wanted your business to be useful to society, and helpful to the art itself. Well, you have proven more than successful in this attempt. You have, of course, received many awards, namely more than 100 Oscar nominations and about 30 wins. But over and beyond these awards, you have used your intelligence and your sensibility to shape American culture and build bridges between the most talented filmmakers of our time and American society.

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François Truffaut used to say: “Le cinéma, c’est l’art de faire faire de jolies choses à de jolies femmes” – in English, “cinema is the art of getting pretty women to do pretty things”. With the greatest respect for Truffaut, this is a bit biased. The greatest filmmaker in the world would still need actors, actresses, producers, technicians and the right distributor. You are this link in the cinema industry chain. And without your dedication and passion, French cinema would not have reached the American audiences it has.

Every year, France produces around 200 films and about 60 are distributed in the United States. You have, in the recent years, supported Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Roman Polanski, the Dardennes brothers and Alain Resnais, among many others. You drove A Prophet, by Jacques Audiard, to the Oscars, and helped Amour, by Michael Haneke, co-produced in France, to receive the Oscar for the best foreign film. Artistic recognition has been abundant thanks to you.
Your jobs require courage. Some of the films that you have distributed have not always been seen as truly promising at the initial release. Your field is not an easy landscape, and the “arthouse” cinema is often uncertain regarding its commercial success. It requires all the more passion to take these risks.

French cinema, as an industry and an art, is grateful to you both. From United Artists Classics to Orion Classics and today at Sony Pictures Classics, you have never hesitated to support French artists. In addition, your friendship extends to roles as advisers, and you commonly offer precious guidance to French film professionals, like Unifrance and the Centre National du Cinéma. Your advice and attention have been great assets to nurture the very special relationship between our countries.

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France is honoured to award you the Legion of Honour. Through our highest distinction, we commend your commitment to forging, enriching and maintaining the transatlantic cultural bond.

Tom Bernard,

Au nom du président de la République et en vertu des pouvoirs qui nous sont conférés,

Nous vous faisons

Chevalier dans l’ordre de la Légion d’honneur.

Michael Barker,

Au nom du président de la République et en vertu des pouvoirs qui nous sont conférés,

Nous vous faisons

Chevalier dans l’ordre de la Légion d’honneur./.

¹M. Fabius spoke in English.

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