Netflix topper to receive Trailblazer Award

Growing up in Phoenix, Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, this year’s Woodstock Film Fest Trailblazer recipient, felt cheated when it came to arthouse fare.

“I would read about these amazing filmmakers and their films but never had the opportunity to see any of them,” he recalls. “At the time, there was one specialty theater 50 miles from my house.”

In 2000, Sarandos joined Netflix and started to give retail life to a slew of films with little or no distribution.

Under Sarandos, the online mail order company’s DVD library jumped from 2,000 in 1999 to its current 85,000 tiles, of which nearly 40,000 are shipped daily to 6.8 million subs.

Sarandos also spearheaded the company’s original content initiative, Red Envelope Entertainment, which, along with its distribution partners, has released such films as this year’s highly acclaimed doc “No End in Sight,” Kirby Dick’s MPAA expose “This Film Is Not Yet Rated” and Maggie Gyllenhaal starrer “Sherrybaby.”

” ‘Sherrybaby’ was a very difficult film for most distributors,” Sarandos says. “We partnered with Screenmedia on the DVD and IFC on the theatrical and kind of helped share in the risk with the understanding that the film had a very healthy life on Netflix.”

Another pic under the Red Envelope banner is Michele Ohayon’s doc “Steal a Pencil for Me,” which will screen at Woodstock.

Sarandos says Ohayon approached him a few years ago about docs she had completed but not many people had seen, including “It Was a Wonderful Life” and Oscar-nominated “Colors Straight Up.”

“I was so blown away by both of them that I said let’s try to get a way to get these out there,” he says. “We worked out a license arrangement with Michele and we brought the films to Netflix, where they have done really well.”

Sarandos is again rewriting the rules. In January, Netflix pacted with a number of studios to offer streamed movies to its subscribers, allowing customers to order movies and stream them on their PCs.

“Our Netflix core mission is to connect people with movies they love,” he says. “With that mission comes a recognition that people love all different kinds of films.”

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