Since its inception in 2000, IFC Films has beaten the notoriously brutal odds of the independent film business. From “Boyhood” to “The Babadook,” the 17-person distributor, which is owned by AMC Networks, has built a reputation for releasing the kind of quirky and distinctive films that major studios have largely abandoned.
Thanks to the success of last summer’s political documentary “Weiner” — an up-close and personal look at the collapse of Anthony Weiner’s campaign for New York City mayor and his relationship with wife Huma Abedin — as well as buzzy upcoming releases such as Kelly Reichardt’s “Certain Women,” Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Things to Come,” and Ken Loach’s “I, Daniel Blake,” the company could be poised to have one of its best years yet.
Variety spoke with IFC Films and Sundance Selects co-presidents Jonathan Sehring and Lisa Schwartz about company strategies, the cost of Oscar campaigning, and riding the Weiner train.
How would you define the IFC brand?
Jonathan Sehring: We are all about the best of the best, whether it’s the best foreign language film, the best horror film, the best documentary. We’re very filmmaker-friendly, but we’re also cognizant of the business element. It is the film business, after all.
Are too many studios doing on-demand releases?
Lisa Schwartz: We were actually the first people to do video on demand. A lot of people rushed into the space, but a lot were experimenting. We stuck to our knitting. We are firmly in the day-and-date business. We do it for a living; we’re not dabbling.
Sehring: It’s a more crowded platform, but it’s more crowded in movie theaters, too. There are more movies being made, and everybody’s looking for the right model.
Would you ever publicly release your video-on-demand revenue?
Sehring: We don’t see the benefit. If there were a standard that the entire industry used, I think we would — but there isn’t. Everybody reports VOD in a different way.
Were you surprised by the reception to “Weiner”?
Sehring: No one could have anticipated Anthony Weiner continuing to …
Schwartz: … behave badly.
Sehring: It’s one of the best political documentaries
that I’ve ever seen. You have Anthony, you have the Huma factor, you have this incredible access, you have a campaign going on. It’s a very humanistic story.
People who were very far to the right went to see the movie and came out saying, “I like Anthony Weiner. There’s something about him personally that I like.”
Schwartz: There were things that happened with that film’s trajectory that you can’t plan for. We went to home video just as Huma announced that they were separating.
Several of your releases, including “Boyhood,” “Y Tu Mamá También,” and “In the Loop,” have been nominated for Oscars. Is Oscar campaigning out of control?
Sehring: It’s always been out of control. The game has ratcheted up. During “Boyhood,” we found out how political it is, and how much money is at stake, and we may have been a little naive to think that negative campaigning didn’t exist. But it was an experience that we learned from.
In the past two years, we’ve earned 10 or 11 nominations, and that was mostly because of the quality. The thing that gives me hope is that when you look at Marion Cotillard in
“Two Days, One Night” or
Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years” — they were being recognized for their performances, not for the campaign or for the amount of ad space or television time.
A number of indie players have struggled recently, from Broad Green to Alchemy. How have you been able to survive?
Sehring: It helps that we’ve been doing this for a long time. We’ve got a strong library.
Schwartz: We also sit inside a large organization — AMC Networks — and one that’s been very supportive of independent film and very patient as the business developed.
Sehring: Going in, we knew the lifespan of an independent distributor probably was five years. We’re on track to have our best year ever.