Longtime IFC Center senior VP and general manager John Vanco is leaving his post at the Manhattan arthouse institution to lead programming for all Netflix movie theaters. That includes New York City’s Paris Theater, the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, and the Bay Theater in Pacific Palisades. He starts April 10.
He’ll focus on Netflix programming at the Egyptian Theatre, which is undergoing an extensive renovation. The iconic venue, originally known as Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, opened in 1922. Long the home of the American Cinematheque, the theater fell into decline. Netflix purchased it in May 2020, but a reopen date following the renovation hasn’t been announced.
The Paris Theater in Manhattan, located adjacent to the Plaza Hotel, has been a home for Netflix programming for several years, especially as a place to theatrically exhibit Netflix’s awards-contending titles for voters. It’s currently programmed by former Museum of the Moving Image chief curator David Schwartz, who will stay on through April and oversee the Venice Film Festival Presents: Next Generation series.
Vanco has operated the IFC Center since 2005. Prior to that he held leadership roles in film distribution and exhibition, including boutique distributor New Yorker Films. Under Vanco’s leadership, IFC Center became one of the city’s hippest venues for cinema with a combination of new releases (often from distributor IFC), repertory programming and restorations, live Q&As, and midnight screenings. These could range from a restored print of “Dead Man” or screening “Dawson City: Frozen Time” with live musical accompaniment for a selection of pre-feature shorts.
And as part of the senior leadership of IFC Films he was part of the acquisition, marketing, and release strategies of “Four Months, Three Weeks, and Two Days,” “Boyhood,” “The Death of Stalin,” “The Babadook” and so many more. The way he managed IFC Center showed an uncanny ability to balance the interests of the parent company (AMC Networks, which owns IFC) with what he knew would be most appealing to cinephiles — it’s that balance that Netflix must have recognized he could bring to managing their own theaters, a truly unique skillset that practically he alone possesses.
He was a familiar figure at the Center whether he was holding court, conducting Q&As, making introductions, or hanging out in the lobby to make sure attendees knew where to go. (Deeply thoughtful about the film landscape, he spoke to me for a BBC World News segment I hosted about the lack of viability of the NC-17 rating.)
Vanco travels to all major festivals, and combines the spirit of a business leader with that of a true cinephile. It’s a rare combination, and the crowds who pack the IFC Center are a testament to its power. While other Manhattan venues struggle with attendance, lines for the IFC Center often stretched down Sixth Avenue. IFC also created something managed only by Film Forum, among other NYC rep houses: a genuine culture, down to the omnipresent Cinemetal T-Shirts sold at the box office. (This writer has the Ingmar Bergman tee.)
His move to Netflix heralds great things for those theaters, but now the question is: Who will run the IFC Center? There’s the center’s film programmer Harris Dew, as one contender. And Schwartz himself, who returned to guest program a recent series at MoMI, could be another.