It’s been a great year for movie producer Jim Burke, with his “Green Book” grossing $321 million worldwide and taking the best picture Oscar. A little more icing for that cake comes Thursday with a lifetime achievement award from the Twin Cities Film Festival (which kicks off in October).
Grandson of Robert McGarvey, who founded McGarvey Coffee and co-founded Hazelden, Burke attended Our Lady of Grace Catholic School, Edina High School and the University of Minnesota before making his way to Hollywood to produce or coproduce movies including “The Descendants,” “Cedar Rapids,” “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” and “Election.” All that time, the 61-year-old moviemaker had one obsession.
Q: Everybody dreams of winning an Oscar, right?
A: My only professional goal was to win one. That’s it. I didn’t want a film franchise. I didn’t want to win the weekend box office. I just wanted to win an Oscar.
Q: When did that start?
A: Quite some time ago. I’ve always been into the Oscars, as a viewer, and I always said I wouldn’t go unless I was nominated because I wanted it to be special. I didn’t completely hold to that. We had a film called “The Savages” that was nominated in two categories, so I went for that [in 2008]. But I held off as long as I could.
Q: Did it live up to your hopes?
A: It did. Even now, I’m just amazed and grateful that this has happened.
Q: Where do you keep the little gold guy?
A: Right here. I’m looking at it right now. It’s in my house [in California]. But I’ve been bringing it around a lot. My nephew in Minnesota, a kid named Nick Harris, has Down syndrome, and I brought it to his summer school class. Surprised him and all the kids there. It just makes you so happy to see how much joy it brings to people.
Q: You mentioned it’s hard for folks, even family and friends, to understand your job. How do you describe it?
A: I’m the first person in on the movie and the last person out. I am typically the second- or third-best person on the film crew at just about everybody’s job, except maybe the actors, because whenever there are issues on a film, if there are issues, I typically become involved.
Q: Your movies range from dramas to comedies to the musical you’re working on with Minnesota-based director Bill Pohlad. What attracts you to material?
A: Often, I can’t articulate it, but I know I like it. That’s the fun part of the process: when it becomes clear to you why that is. I meet with many interns, hundreds of interns, and I always give them, early on, this assignment: Make a list of your 10 favorite films and look at them so you can tell yourself what connects each one of the movies. And that will tell you something about yourself.
Q: OK, intern Jim Burke. Gimme 10!
A: “Fargo.” “Lost in Translation.” “Breaking Away.” “The Godfather.” “Harold and Maude” — that’s for nostalgic purposes. It ran at a theater by my house — it was called the Westgate; it’s no longer there — and I saw it two or three times. I guess I don’t have a whole list. It changes. Oh, this is bad form but, for me, I’d say “Election” and “The Descendants.” I was involved with them, but I really like them. “The Queen,” by Stephen Frears.
Q: Are you still a movie fan?
A: (Long pause) I haven’t watched a movie in a long time. I used to go all the time, but it’s harder. For me, the film season really starts this month and goes to the end of the year. I’m personally not somebody who goes for the big loud summer movies or sequels. And that’s pretty much what is offered over the summer. But, yeah, and I’m also a fan of television. I’m watching “Mindhunter” now, and it’s fantastic.
Q: Speaking of that show, which is on Netflix, your movies have all had traditional theatrical releases. Do you see that continuing, with all the competition from streaming services?
A: I don’t know. I say this a lot, but Bill Murray was interviewed five or six years ago, and he was asked what’s next. He said, “My whole thing, this is my mantra: Be available and aware.” So I’ve stolen that from him. The film business is changing, and I just really want to make certain that if I make a film it can be seen. I don’t mind the new technologies, but typically, movies are somewhat of an event for me. Like, “It’s coming out on Friday. Gotta go see it then in the theater.”
Q: As you look toward future projects, what does this award mean to you?
A: Hopefully, it doesn’t mean I’m done achieving things, but obviously, it’s lovely to be honored by my hometown festival. Film festivals are what drive the business, in my opinion. The movies I’ve made have always had a robust festival circuit play, and it’s been hugely important. I’m very impressed with this festival and this team and how they’ve built a festival smack-dab in the middle of the awards corridor. It’s important for the community — you can discover so many great films in a film festival!
Chris Hewitt • 612-673-4367