HBO’s documentary on Warren Buffett got an advance screening in Omaha on Monday, starting with images of a youngster sorting out used soda-pop bottle caps and ending with the 86-year-old crooning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
In between, the film by Peter Kunhardt and his sons, Teddy and George, describes Buffett’s investing philosophy and his buildup of Berkshire into the nation’s fourth-largest corporation. Business associates and Berkshire shareholders discuss his discipline in choosing the right investments and his decision to give his wealth to charity.
But it’s the personal detail that sets “Becoming Warren Buffett” apart, said Buffett.
“It should be personal,” he said. “It doesn’t tell the story that’s already been told ... multiple times.”
He praised Peter Kunhardt.
“It’s accurate. It’s the way I lived my life,” he said. “It’s what I hoped he would do.”
Buffett was among about 250 guests invited by HBO to view the film in a recital hall at the Holland Center for the Performing Arts. It premiers on the cable network at 9 p.m. central time on Jan. 30.
At the Holland Center’s Scott Recital Hall, the film was introduced by Buffett’s youngest grandson, Michael Greenberg, who described growing up in Omaha and going to “fine dining establishments, like Dairy Queen,” with his grandfather.
In the movie, Greenberg said, “you will see him as a complete person. You will see he is as complicated as he is intelligent, as sensitive as he is calculating ... in short, he’s a regular dude.”
The film is built around Buffett’s personal relationships, especially his marriage to Susan Thompson Buffett. It includes family home movies and photos never shown publicly before and a detailed account of her illness and 2004 death, as well as Susan Buffett’s relationship with his current wife, Astrid.
Also attending the screening were George and Teddy Kunhardt. The family filmmaking business, based in Pleasantville, New York, has two more films under way, but they couldn’t divulge the subject matter.
Besides photos and movies from daughter Susie Buffett, the Kunhardt brothers visited Peter Buffett, her youngest brother, who said he might have some home movies in his basement.
The two were rooting through boxes when George Kunhardt picked out one and said, ‘‘I think this is it,’” recalled his brother, Teddy.
“It was amazing,” Teddy Kunhardt said. The package had four rolls of 8-millimeter film, some of it undeveloped.
At the time, they were just finishing a film on James Foley, an American journalist who was beheaded by the Islamic State in 2012 during the Syrian civil war.
The Buffett film was a completely different project.
“For us, to meet and work with the person that the film’s about, in this case Warren Buffett, was a dream come true,” George Kunhardt said. “It was a great experience.”
The film’s opening bottle-cap segment is a re-enactment of Buffett’s oft-told tale of his early market research. Based on his finding that Coca-Cola was the best-selling brand of soda, he bought Cokes for 25 cents per six-pack and sold each bottle for 5 cents, turning a 5-cent profit.
The Buffetts also attended a showing of the Kunhardt film last week at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, with similar refreshments. Accounts of the showing said Buffett got two standing ovations.
The Omaha showing was followed by a reception in the adjacent lobby that featured Dairy Queen Dilly Bars and See’s Candies. Both companies are parts of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., the Omaha-based conglomerate that Buffett heads.
Buffett’s gravelly rendition of the song from “The Wizard of Oz” serves as background music as the movie’s closing credits roll. In the film, Susan Buffett says it brings back fond memories.
“My dad used to rock me to sleep at night and sing ‘Over the Rainbow,’ so I have this insanely sentimental attachment to that song,” she says. “I’ve always had a really close relationship with him.”
As the song ends, Buffett says, “Good night, Suze.”
In the interview Monday, Buffett said he recorded the tune 30 years ago while on vacation at a mall in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
“If Susie woke up at 2 in the morning, I would go in and start singing,” Buffett said. “The only thing that might be noted is, I think she really didn’t go to sleep. I think she pretended to go to sleep so I’d quit singing.”
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. owns the Omaha World-Herald