Husband, father, filmmaker, mentor. Born Oct. 8, 1943, in Toronto. Died Dec. 10, 2004, in Toronto, of heart failure, aged 61.
INT. WINNIPEG HOTEL ROOM -- DAY: A group of energetic filmmakers gathers around a wine bottle, intent on celebration. ANGLE ON: FILMMAKER #1: "Does anybody have a corkscrew?" WIDE SHOT: Heads shake, spirits sag. ANGLE ON: Tom Berner slips from the room. CUT TO: Five minutes later, Tom reappears with corkscrew in hand. Filmmakers burst into joy. Tom saves the day, again. FADE OUT.
Tom Berner was the "patron saint of independent filmmaking" in Canada. If Tom didn't help you get your film made, it was because you didn't know to call him. We knew Tom through film, but, through that connection, he had an impact on us, and hundreds of other filmmakers across Canada, that we will never forget.
Tom began his career as an editor at Film Arts in Toronto. After more than 30 years, he became the post-production customer service manager when Film Arts became part of the American-owned Deluxe Laboratories in 1994.
We often wondered if Deluxe knew what Tom got up to, because he seemed to spend all his time with filmmakers whose dreams were much bigger than their bank accounts. "Tom's filmmakers" showed up at Deluxe in their Value Village clothes, sweaty from riding their bikes across town, clutching the elements for their $1,000 films. They made their way through the Deluxe labyrinth, to end up in Tom's office, squished in with boxes of finished films, short-ends and a crazy fichus plant Tom was sure would regain its leaves any day now.
Tom would sit behind his desk with a sly smile on his face as the overwhelmed filmmakers spilled out their dreams and anxieties about finishing their film. He never batted an eye when they told him how little they had budgeted for their productions. Tom would assure the filmmaker that things would work out. And without ever revealing all he had done, things worked out -- even if it sometimes meant Tom racing to the airport to deliver a print, still wet from the lab, into the hands of a frantic filmmaker flying off to attend the film's debut festival screening.
While Toronto filmmakers were lucky to have "Tom on tap," his support and encouragement touched filmmakers across the country. He helped foster emerging filmmakers through initiatives such as the National Screen Institute's Drama Prize program in Winnipeg and Edmonton, and the Ontario Media Development Corp.'s Calling Card program in Ontario. Tom's support through Deluxe helped establish the screenwriting program at the Atlantic Film Festival in Halifax and Toronto's Worldwide Short Film Festival.
When Tom retired from Deluxe in 2001, the independent filmmaking community wholeheartedly supported the 2002 creation of the Tom Berner Award for Extraordinary Support of Independent Filmmaking. Sponsored by the Liaison of Independent Filmmakers of Toronto, the award is given annually. Tom, of course, was the first recipient.
Tom spent his all too-brief retirement taking art classes at the Halliburton School of Fine Arts, sitting on the board of his condominium complex, spending time with friends dealing with illness and continuing to assist people.
Tom's wife, Betty, and his sons Christopher and Michael were deeply moved by the love and respect shown to Tom by the overflowing crowd at his memorial service. For those of us fortunate to have known him, we will see the twinkle in Tom's eyes in the flickering light of the hundreds of films he helped get made, and we will be inspired to carry on the generosity of Tom's spirit. Tom knew that film, like life, is hard to do on your own.
Sarah and Mark are friends of Tom Berner.