Staff changes at Netflix and IFC: Explaining the big indie contraction

After a week of major personnel changes at key film companies, here’s the bigger picture.

When you cover the art business, you’re more used to familiar faces than famous ones. Programmers, distributors and sales agents may not be walking the red carpet alongside their stars, but at the after-parties, in the trenches of every major film festival, they are constantly thinking about how to see new works. Their ubiquity allows this pocket of the entertainment industry to be shown, so when the faces switch places, it stands out.

In that respect, this week was extraordinary. Within 48 hours, the news broke that independent film directors had left their jobs they had held for years, in some cases not voluntarily.

First, John Vanco, an 18-year veteran of the IFC Center, came to Netflix to take over bookings for the Paris Theater in New York and the Bay Cinema and Egyptian in Los Angeles. It follows the announcement that the same streamer has fired veteran documentary and indie execs Lisa Nishimura and Ian Bricke. Finally, the week ended with the surprise announcement that Arianna Bocco, president of IFC Films, has stepped down from her leadership role after 17 years at the AMC-owned company.

Some moves are more shocking than others. Netflix was looking for a new exhibition figure to take over the role vacated by former Museum of the Moving Image curator David Schwartz last year. Vanco has been with IFC for a long time and has worked closely with Netflix over the years, and the new gig will likely give him a chance to experiment with more resources (and perhaps better job security).

As for executives, Netflix is ​​working to solidify many of its moving parts, and people known for their work as filmmakers on festival- and awards-friendly titles aren’t as much of a priority as the company is doubling down. streaming-friendly hits.

These moves indicate that while streaming narrows and consolidates resources, it still casts a huge shadow over the state of art distribution and acquisition. Vanco’s decision to enter Netflix’s expanded universe has immediate goodwill from the artist community, but it also embodies a growing sense of a new economic standard in which streaming is favored. It’s the ultimate “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” switcheroo.

Bocco, on the other hand, shocked many of us because his departure seemed to come out of nowhere. He pioneered the day-and-date model 15 years ago, was a critical figure in acquisitions, and one of the few buyers who continued to invest in foreign-language films in the US market. He waited in the wings for years to take over the company from longtime co-chairman Jonathan Sehring when he retired, and finally got his shot when co-chairman Lisa Schwartz stepped down as president in 2020.

Bocco’s tenure at the IFC helm has been short but steady, with recent acclaimed releases including Paul Verhoeven’s subversive nun thriller “Benedetta” and abortion drama “Happening.” These movies may not have been box office hits, but they generated a lot of buzz and did well in the digital markets. Finally, Bocco made it through the terrible conditions of the epidemic and came out on the other side. In a way, it felt like he was just getting started.

At the same time, he’s also the kind of straight shooter who sees the writing on the wall. Yes, he took risks in daring filmmaking like Olivier Assayas’s widespread “Carlos” and held his nose to make “The Human Centipede” a sensation. In addition, with the so-called mumblecore movement, he helped elevate lo-fi micro-budget filmmaking to a modest corner of the already modest market.

Arianna Bocco

Arianna Bocco

Getty Images

At the same time, he was a constant realist about the challenges of theatrical release of non-English language films (and basically anything non-genre these days) and gave voice to theatrical production as a form of marketing. digital sales. This mentality made him uniquely suited to navigate the nature of IFC’s structure as AMC’s content provider. However, the streaming market is increasingly undercutting premium VOD (aka PVOD) sales, which play a crucial role in the longevity of many IFC releases. Someone who wants to continue to grow in this industry will probably want to grow beyond the limitations of a model that is tied in part to PVOD revenue.

Company sources said Bocco’s departure was a surprise. IFC did not make any official announcements or acknowledge his history with the company; instead, he merely explained that acquisitions chief Scott Shooman would fill his role on an interim basis. While he didn’t return calls and texts Friday, you can bet the move won’t keep Bocco’s AMC employers safe — and they may not have been thrilled.

Where will you go? No one I reached out to on Friday seemed to have a concrete idea, but there are few people better equipped to exploit the interplay of cinema and streaming for international films in the US. AMC+ streaming channel. However, since subscriber numbers are not public, we don’t know if this will become a long-term priority. IFC’s charm may have faded in its artistic heyday, but they still got away with a lot while many proclaimed the business dead. This kind of flexibility is rare, and Bocco’s commitment to the work is greater than the whims of any single corporate unit.

While theater may be in danger, experienced people in this market at all levels of the industry still add real value to the current landscape. Streaming entities have begun to understand the importance of developing and acquiring original content for a global audience and recognize that theater is part of the equation. Therein lies the potential silver lining: an expert in the art of bringing international cinema to American audiences in an ever-changing market.

Two weeks ago I attended a ceremony at the French Embassy where Bocco and his former IFC colleague Ryan Werner (who now heads Cinetic Marketing and new distributor Sideshow) were honored as Head of Arts and Letters. In retrospect, Bocco’s comments after accepting the award can be seen as a sort of prelude to his next phase. “Being involved in the industry and being able to bring films to the United States has really been the honor of my career,” he said. “I think it’s important that we continue to support different cultures, different films and new voices. I really hope to keep doing that.”

It probably will, although where and how is still unclear. As with the buzz at Cannes, expect no Netflix movies to play at the festival. Meanwhile, Apple is partnering with Paramount on its Cannes entry for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” and Amazon is releasing “Air” nationwide next week. Models are changing, but there is still room for arthouse figures to enter the streaming world and disrupt it with their own programming.

There will still be purists who resist a future of cinema dominated by streaming, but the streaming business already supports every aspect of the arthouse world. The top decision makers in the business are in a good position to infiltrate global distribution and try to make a difference. Some of the most famous figures have to adopt new ways of doing business. Let’s hope they still show up at the same old parties.

Check out Bocco’s appearance on Screen Talk last fall here.

As always, I look forward to your feedback in the weekly column: [email protected]

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