Jonathan Sehring tells Jeremy Kay why 10 years since the launch of IFC Films, its sister label Sundance Selects has become the destination for prestige cinema, while the former is now focusing on broader theatrical releases
The well-wishers who gathered at New York’s MoMA in June to celebrate the 10th anniversary of IFC Films might have been surprised to learn that while the label continues to thrive, a profound evolution is under way. IFC Films will always be associated with intelligent, provocative cinema, but it is turning into a platform for broader theatrical releases such as February’s The Other Woman and this summer’s hit The Trip.
Meanwhile two years after its soft launch, Sundance Selects, the sister distribution channel to IFC Films and IFC Midnight under the AMC Networks umbrella, has become the destination for what Sundance Selects/IFC Films president Jonathan Sehring calls “prestige cinema”.
In 2009 Sehring launched Sundance Selects with the support of Robert Redford as a strand focusing on documentaries that had screened at the Sundance Film Festival. Spike Lee’s Passing Strange: The Movie was the first to go in August 2009. Sundance Selects was designed primarily as a video-on-demand platform that would occasionally go day-and-date with a film’s theatrical release, echoing the pioneering model Sehring created for IFC In Theatres. It ran across a cable TV universe encompassing Comcast, Cox and Cablevision with a combined subscriber base of roughly 50 million people.
Two years later and the label has evolved into a shared branding venture with an expanded remit beyond both Sundance titles and documentaries. “We’ve got a great brand name in Sundance and it means something globally and to US audiences as well,” explains Sehring. “Redford wanted us to expand that brand to theatrical distribution.”
Earlier this year Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy was given a significant theatrical platform and went on to gross $1.3m in theatres. Sehring adds that the VoD numbers were great, too, but declines to be specific. As with IFC Films and IFC Midnight, the goal at Sundance Selects is to release 18-24 titles a year. Non-fiction releases have included Errol Morris’ Tabloid and Cindy Meehl’s Buck.
A Cannes shopping spree secured The Kid With A Bike by the Dardenne brothers, Maiwenn’s Poliss, Julia Leigh’s Sleeping Beauty and a pre-buy on Olivier Assayas’ Something In The Air, shooting now in France and Italy. More recently the label acquired Cédric Klapisch’s My Piece Of The Pie.
Sehring’s core team includes Arianna Bocco (acquisitions and productions), Ryan Werner (marketing and publicity), Lisa Schwartz (distribution and business development), Mark Boxer (head of theatrical distribution) and John Vanco (head of IFC Center). They work across all three distribution channels and structure campaigns to suit each film. Some will go out day-and-date, while others such as Werner Herzog’s Cave Of Forgotten Dreams initially launched only in theatres.
“Theatrical will always be here,” Sehring says. “We’re very bullish on it. IFC has a cinema in New York City and Cave Of Forgotten Dreams has broken all kinds of records, so I don’t think that’s going away. But not every film warrants that type of viewing. We’re adamant about being on every platform. We want people who watch us to watch us on whatever their preferred platform is.”
Sehring advocates the relaxing of infrastructure so consumers can watch a single piece of entertainment on multiple devices. “We’re not a studio so we weren’t that affected by the erosion of the DVD business, but VoD is only a part of the business,” he says. “The whole movie business is like this big pie and you have to look at every distribution window and you have to be fluid and move with it and that’s been our focus.
“If you believe that movies by auteur film-makers will continue to rent and there will continue to be an audience for it, that bodes well.”
Sehring and his cohorts are famously loyal to their regular collaborators and have worked on several occasions with the likes of Joe Swanberg, Michael Winterbottom and Assayas. “That’s how we try to look at our business. We’re betting that film-makers will continue to connect with audiences.”
Sehring was part of the team that launched The Independent Film Channel in 1994 and later created IFC Films and its various brands.
IFC Films ventured into exhibition with the launch in 2005 of the IFC Center in New York City.
In 2010, Sehring spearheaded the launch of online rental and purchase site SundanceNow.
Before IFC, Sehring oversaw programming and production for Bravo and The Independent Film Channel and was director of programming for Janus Films.