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First Person: IFC’s Jonathan Sehring on Dramatic Change in the Specialty Film Business

First Person: IFC's Jonathan Sehring on Dramatic Change in the Specialty Film Business

EDITORS NOTE: Struck by IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring‘s remarks while accepting his award at IFP‘s Gotham Awards in New York last week, indieWIRE invited Sehring to share his written remarks with our readers as a First Person piece. At one point for emphasis, while praising the pictures coming from the studio’s specialty divisions, Sehring singled out Miramax president Daniel Battsek, nothing that however good the films coming from companies like Miramax are, they not independent films. He also encouraged the industry to embrace changes in film distribution, such as IFC’s First Take day-and-date initiation. After the speech, an informal poll showed that attendees were supportive of Sehring’s remarks, even as a few groused that the comments were merely to trumpet his own company.

Included below are Jonathan Sehrings remark’s, as written, for 2007 the Gotham Awards:

“The specialized film business, the true specialized film business, not the studio specialty business, is undergoing a dramatic change. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with studios making high end specialty films — many are great — but it has in turn made traditional theatrical distribution for movies without stars, movies shot digitally, movies in a foreign language, documentaries and too many other movies going without the means to reach an audience.

Many of my colleagues in the film community complain that there are too many movies — the music business doesn’t complain that there are too many songs, the publishing business doesn’t complain that there are too many books, the television business doesn’t complain that there are too many shows, artists don’t complain that there are too many paintings — yet our business complains that there are too many movies. I can assure everyone that independent filmmakers are not going to stop making movies — they all have stories to tell — it is up to the distribution community to be creative and help filmmakers find a way to reach their audiences. The model for film distribution hasn’t changed dramatically since the business launched almost a century ago, seemingly everything else in the movie business has.

When IFC launched its Day and Date distribution strategy we did so because we saw so many great movies going without distribution. World class filmmakers were not reaching an audience in this country. When works from masters like Wim Wenders, Hou Hsiao hsien, Ken Loach, Alain Resnais, Lars von Trier and Gus van Sant are going without distribution and great new works from current and emerging filmmakers like Larry Fessenden, Julia Loktev and Christian Mungiu, just to name a few, are available through our Day and Date model, it becomes readily apparent that what was the staple of the independent film business 2-3 years ago is no longer the independent film business today.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. In fact it is a good thing. Through our Day and Date theatrical/VOD initiative these filmmakers are reaching a wider audience in a much more economic fashion. Ultimately, their movies will be seen by more people and [their film’s] make more money than ever before. Isn’t that what everyone wants?

Additionally, film lovers around the country are now being given the opportunity to see specialized movies the same day as audiences in New York and Los Angeles, and contrary to the fears of some it hasn’t hurt the box office for these films. Rather it has helped. Our partners in the cable industry heavily cross promote the fact that these movies are in theatrical release, both creating awareness for the films as well as reaching new audiences. Ken Loach and Shane Meadows have both enjoyed their most successful theatrical releases through our Day and Date program. Traditional theatrical distribution isn’t dead, but film distributors large and small are competing with more and more entertainment options on a daily basis. The digital revolution is now. More efficient economic models for distribution are working. The true independent film business should embrace these changes and figure out how to improve upon them. Sticking to old models and traditional theatrical distribution is like using a Sony Walkman instead of an iPod –

I don’t think it is coincidence that Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner were honored here last year touting their Day and Date strategy, or that IFC Entertainment is being honored this year. Our business is changing and it is changing for the better. The New York independent film [community] has always been ahead of the curve, not just in innovative filmmaking but also innovation in exhibition and distribution. I assure you, everyone at IFC is still focused on the mission we set out when we launched our network a decade ago, growing and expanding the audience for independent film. I would like to thank the IFP again for this recognition and I am proud and lucky to be part of this community. Thank you.

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