Last August, amidst the shutdowns and restrictions imposed by government officials at every level—which included the shuttering of movie theaters across the country—a new film premiered, beautifully and engagingly depicting the apparitions of Our Lady to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. The film Fatima was released in a handful of theaters, but was largely seen by audiences at home via “Premium Video on Demand” rentals.
Bob Berney is CEO and Jeanne Berney is COO of Picturehouse, the North American distributor of Fatima. They have been involved in the marketing and distribution of many prominent films, including My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Drive, Manchester by the Sea, Pan’s Labyrinth, and The Passion of the Christ, among others.
Picturehouse recently struck an exclusive deal with AMC Theaters to re-release Fatima, beginning on May 7, in 350 theaters around the country. This will be a traditional release, as the film would have had initially if it hadn’t been for the shutdown of theaters. Jeanne Berney said that “this release has been all in Mary’s hands from the beginning,” a point which is emphasized by the fact that they were able to secure a date just before Mother’s Day (May 9) and the feast of Our Lady of Fatima (May 13).
(As a side note, Ignatius Press also published a book last August, which is a helpful and accessible resource for those seeking more information about the Fatima apparitions: Fatima: 100 Questions and Answers about the Marian Apparitions, written by yours truly.)
Bob and Jeanne Berney recently spoke with Catholic World Report about the film, its upcoming re-release, and how the film’s message of hope can impact the world today.
Catholic World Report: Can you briefly explain the role the two of you, and Picturehouse, play in regards to this film?
Jeanne Berney: Picturehouse acquired the film for North America from the producers. Then we proceeded to set up a traditional release plan for the movie, beginning with a release in theaters, followed by what we call “home entertainment” or “transactional video on demand,” where you go in and pay each time you watch, followed by “subscription video on demand,” which in this case is Netflix. We were responsible for all aspects of those things in North America for the film Fatima. In other countries there are other companies that have acquired the rights and will release the film in those territories.
Bob Berney: We’re really responsible for the distribution, dealing with theaters, and the marketing, which includes the publicity and the creation of all the materials—like the “coming soon” trailer, the poster, the digital campaigns, the social media, all the stuff that’s related to a film’s release.
CWR: Why did you decide to re-release the film? And why now?
Jeanne Berney: We didn’t decide—Mary decided!
Bob Berney: A lot of it—at least in the U.S.—has to do with the opening up of the country in many ways. With the vaccines and new guidelines, easing of restrictions, based on lower cases, it felt like a hopeful time in the country. With Easter and everything, it felt like a hopeful time with things actually opening up. Then we talked with AMC Theaters, who originally responded positively to the film before they were shut down for a long time due to the pandemic. And with things opening up, it feels like an opportunity to get this hopeful message of the film out there, and help communities to sort of come back to life.
Jeanne Berney: I would add that we originally were going to open it in April; but then, due to the pandemic, we moved it to August. But by the fourth of July, when theaters still had not opened, we moved to a hybrid release, having some theaters showing the film but also having it available on what’s called “Premium Video on Demand”—the opportunity to see a movie in your home at the same time you could see it in a theater. As things start to open up, the opportunity to see that film together, in community with your friends, your church, your school, is great. We have a movie that looks great on the big screen, and a lot of people who love it. So why not put it in 350 theaters and give people a reason to come together? The timing is perfect, and we’ve set a price point we think really works: $5 per ticket.
Bob Berney: It’s a new way to experience it for most people. I’m not stuck in the old world; I know the impact streaming is having. Audiences want to see movies when they can, but I still do really believe that there’s a sense of community and passion when you see a movie with people and can feel the response in the theater. So I think it’s important that we let people have that, since they really miss it.
Jeanne Berney: The movie is beautiful on the big screen. That’s what it was shot for. The director was the cinematographer for Game of Thrones, so he’s really got the chops to create a movie for theaters. And when you see this on the big screen it will be very different than what you saw on your computer or your TV. And with 350 screens, it’s pretty much national. So everybody should be able to find a theater near them that’s playing it.
CWR: Was AMC at all reluctant to strike this re-release deal?
Bob Berney: They were very good about it. I have a really good relationship with them, and when we were originally going to open before COVID, we had screened it at their home office in Kansas City, and they had invited to the screening a lot of people from the local diocese. They all responded really well to the film. The theaters are opening up now, but there aren’t as many movies as there normally are, so we thought it would be a great win-win—a way to both help the theaters, and to help people come back to theaters, and also for us to spread the message of the movie even further. It’s a repertory booking, in a way, for them (bringing back a film), but it’s a film that most of the audience hasn’t really been able to see on the big screen.
Jeanne Berney: And it differs a little from a repertory booking because it’s not just one night; they will keep the film in theaters as long as people come to see it. It’s an open-ended, regular run, like we would have had, had the theaters been open when we released it, and that’s the unprecedented part. So we’re excited about that, that they’re willing to roll the dice with us on this movie, and give a full slate of showtimes and promote it with us.
Bob Berney: I think it’s great that they see the opportunity to not just play Hollywood films and art films, but a film that has a faith message, a Catholic story. So we’re really impressed that they wanted to do that in a big way.
CWR: Since the initial release in August 2020, what sort of traction has the movie had? It was a hybrid release—at release, and since then, have there been a lot of box office ticket sales, downloads, purchases?
Bob Berney: It’s actually done very well on the Premium Video on Demand at the time, and then subsequently with the typical home entertainment—lower-priced rentals and Netflix. It’s done very well. So I’m hoping that that word of mouth will generate new people coming to see it, but also people who want to see it again, to experience it on the big screen.
Jeanne Berney: You know, the way the movie business works, they must report the numbers from the box office in the theaters, but those laws were written in like 1939. So once the home entertainment came up, they weren’t bound to release that information. We can’t really talk specific numbers, but I can say that the film is in the top 10 of grossing films in 2020. Of course, the pandemic caused a lot of studios to pull their pictures out. But the independent theaters that played it, and the Premium Video on Demand from August 28 to October 5, we grossed in the top 10 of movies for 2020. And that’s another reason AMC wants to bring it back: it has been successful. That’s a great accomplishment for a movie like this.
CWR: What do you hope for from this re-release?
Jeanne Berney: We’re hoping to go to heaven!
Bob Berney: I think what we hope for is that it’ll get some people out into the theaters. We don’t have expectations that it’ll go through the roof or anything, because we just don’t know. It’s hopeful that the film will get attention again, and in this period of the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, and Ascension Thursday, the message of hope of the film combines with the hope that a lot of people have that there will be a healing in our country. The message is very positive, so I hope that that message has an effect on people. And if it does good business, that could generate more word of mouth and spread the film even further, and even become a classic, I hope.
CWR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Jeanne Berney: We’re also trying to encourage people to come see the movie in connection with Mother’s Day. Bring your mother to the movies! Honor the mother of all mothers! This is really an opportunity to see this film together.
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