Among the American distributors acquiring and releasing art house films over the past decade, few have maintained the significant reach and influence of IFC Films. A prominent source for countless independent film titles from around the world, the company also played a key role in developing the video-on-demand marketplace, extending the potential for acclaimed cinema to reach wider audiences. While part of a larger corporate entity, IFC Films itself relies on a small team of committed cinephiles for its curatorial approach. Few would argue with the notion that one of the key players in its recent successes is Vice President of Marketing Ryan Werner, one of the New York film scene’s familiar faces as well as perennial figure on the festival circuit.
While Werner has not left those worlds behind, he has moved on to new prospects: After seven-and-a-half years at IFC, Werner left the company last week. His last day was Friday.
Werner, who entered the industry as an assistant to Michelle Byrd at IFP before heading up theatrical distribution for Wellspring and then joining IFC in 2005, said in a conversation with Indiewire that the decision to leave the company was the result of an interest in exploring other options. “It’s been almost eight years and I felt like it was a good time to make a change,” he said. “It’s a hard decision, because obviously it’s the kind of work I love doing. I love everyone I work with. But I wanted to make a change and it’s a good time to do it.”
Celebrated at a close-knit gathering in New York last week, Werner did not appear to cause any bad vibes with his departure from the company, possibly because he has made it clear that he will remain active in the distribution space. ” I don’t want anyone to think I’m retiring,” he said. “I like to work. I’m just recharging and then diving back in.” While he did not reveal any specific details, Werner said that he planned to take on freelance consulting gigs in the short term but hoped to continue working in the same field. He added that he’s speaking to several companies about his next moves. “I’m still figuring things out,” he said. “I know it’s not the normal way to just walk away from a job but it felt right.”
Having completed his time with the company, Werner leaves several achievements in his wake. He singled out the company’s success with day-and-date releases, which entails the release of films simultaneously in theaters and VOD, as one of the accomplishment he considers a prominent success of his time there. “I’m really proud of that,” he said, noting that Armando Iannucci’s British comedy “In the Loop” was the first Oscar-nominated title to receive a day-and-date release. Based on experiences with the approach, he said, “I think what was really exciting during my time at IFC was that we were one of the dominant companies that changed the way people thought about distribution.”
Additionally, he noted a range of young independent filmmakers whose early features were acquired and released to great acclaim by IFC under his guidance, including Lena Dunham (“Tiny Furniture”), Aaron Katz (“Cold Weather”), Andrew Haigh (“Weekend”) and Joe Swanberg, for whom the company has distributed several titles since his 2007 feature “Hannah Takes the Stairs.” While those films benefited from the exposure that the company was able to bring, Werner also relished the challenge of releasing unconventional films like Steven Soderbergh’s sprawling biopic “Che,” which the company released using a road show model. He also oversaw the release of two successful 3D documentaries, Werner Herzog’s “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” and Wim Wenders’ “PINA,” among the first films of their types of be released in that format.
Based on those varied experiences, Werner said that his takeaway from his time at the company was not to rely on the same strategies for every acquisition. “It’s important to approach each film on its own,” he said, “and be aware that every film is unique. If you have something really unique, it’s going to rise to the top.”
While he has already moved on, Werner expressed optimism about some of the company’s upcoming releases that he played a role in acquiring in recent months, such as Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.” The last two releases he worked on before completing his time at IFC were “Gimme the Loot” and “Room 237,” both of which opened last week and saw healthy returns in limited release. “All the films I was working on are in good shape,” he said. “I feel confident about that. It’s bittersweet to leave.”
For the immediate future, those acquainted with Werner’s presence in the industry should not despair. He plans to actively attend films at the upcoming Tribeca and Cannes Film Festivals, working with many of the partners who have grown to know him over the years. “It’s not like I hated my job or anything,” he said. “I love releasing movies, so that’s probably where I’m going to stay.”