IFC runs with controversial film

Selling foreign films to Americans is tough enough without throwing infant death, genital mutilation, talking animals and a director who won’t fly on airplanes into the marketing mix. At the same time, Danish helmer Lars von Trier’s “Antichrist” — riding a wave of notoriety that began in Cannes and will soon crash its way into the fall film festivals — already has the kind of polarizing rep that’s ripe for savvy exploitation.

“One of the things that’s great about it,” says IFC’s marketing VP Ryan Werner, “is that the general public heard a lot about the Cannes controversy, more than they hear about most of these movies.”

It provides a good starting point, says Werner. From there, he’s “then just trying to deal with people’s expectations.” And if there’s a negative public perception now about the film, he says, “by the time we finish Toronto and New York film festivals, there’s at least going to be a healthy debate. And we’re willing to take on the naysayers.”

Von Trier’s allegorical fable about sin, grief and myth stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsborough as He and She, whose infant son falls from a window while they’re having sex. Grief, orgasm, “gynocide” and She’s increasingly feral transformation create a warren of interpretive possibilities. Arguments will likely be made that von Trier is a misogynist and a feminist. The brutality with which She treats her husband and herself may have some auds bolting for the doors.

But IFC isn’t running away from the film. The distrib will play the film exactly as it was shown in Cannes and is actively foraging for critical support.

“Our strategy for almost every movie we’ve done this year — ‘Gomorrah,’ ‘In the Loop,’ ‘Summer Hours’ — is picking films the press will write about and champion,” Werner notes. “That’s the biggest way we get the word out. We have limited P&A budgets.” IFC will spend “roughly mid-six figures” on “Antichrist’s” P&A, according to Werner.

IFC will also typically travel the cast and the filmmaker (though not von Trier) around to promote pics at fests and before release. “The bulk of how we spend money is on publicity and getting attention for the films that way.”

Around the time of “Antichrist’s” release, von Trier will appear for Q&As via closed-circuit TV after certain screenings. “I went as far as to say, ‘We’ll send him over on the Queen Mary,’ but it was never really discussed,” Werner smiles.

IFC will make a TV ad buy with sister cablers IFC and Sundance Channel, and it enjoys as wider television presence thanks to a big push for VOD from the cable operators. “Cable provides a ton of free TV spots,” Werner says of the 30-second slots. “These get run in major markets on basic cable networks like CNN, Discovery, Bravo, E!, etc. They’ll run TV spots supporting the film being in theaters. That’s one of the real marketing advantages to doing this day-and-date program.”

In addition to a modest online ad buy, IFC is pushing for online features and interviews. Werner also says he and crew are targeting horror and genre sites that they regularly work with for the IFC Midnight titles, along with multiple trailers. Besides buying ads in major mainstream newspapers such as the New York Times and Village Voice, IFC is also buying print ads in Film Comment and Cineaste, targeting the highbrow aud and taking “Antichrist” to Fantastic Fest in Austin to bite off a piece of the fanboy base.

Overall, the campaign will exploit the film’s controversy with more reasoned assessments. “The main (one-sheet) quote is a U.K. quote: ‘The most shocking film in the history of the Cannes Film Festival’ balanced out with quotes from critics — (Roger) Ebert, Manohla (Dargis) and Wesley Morris — championing the film.”

The quotes will also appear on the poster, a shot of the film’s principals having sex under a tree, surrounded by hands coming out of the ground. “It’s the international poster,” Werner says. “Usually we’d do our own, but it’s such an iconic mage, you couldn’t really top it.”

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