EXCLUSIVE: Marking the end of a remarkable four decade run at its parent company, IFC Films co-president Jonathan Sehring is stepping down at year end. The decision is his, and he will take some time for himself, but retains the right to do other things in the indie film space where he has been an important figure for years. The affable Long Islander helped launch the Independent Film Channel in 1994 and later created IFC Films.
Stepping up to lead IFC Films into the future is Sehring’s co-president Lisa Schwartz, Arianna Bocco, who’s currently EVP Acquisitions and Productions, and John Vanco, who will continue in his role as Senior Vice President/General Manager of the IFC Center. The company encompasses IFC Films, Sundance Selects and IFC Midnight, the multi-platform film distribution labels owned and operated by AMC Networks.
“I’ve been contemplating this move for several years and on the 20th anniversary of our launching IFC Films, it just felt like the right time,” said Sehring. “I am forever grateful to Jim Dolan and Chuck Dolan, Marc Lustgarten and Josh Sapan for the unbelievable opportunities they afforded me since I joined the organization nearly 40 years ago. I have had two incredible careers at AMC Networks, 20 years in film and 20 years in television, and I am immensely proud of the films and television shows we produced and distributed, the brands we built, the businesses we launched and all that we have accomplished during my time with the organization.”
Said Josh Sapan, CEO of IFC Films parent AMC Networks: “If there’s a Hall of Fame for independent film, a big name on that list
would be Jonathan Sehring. He is one of a handful of people who ushered in and breathed life into what we now commonly call
‘independent film,’ one of the great American art forms of our time.”
Over his decades-long career Sehring has been involved in turning indie filmmakers into marquee names, working with the likes of Steven Soderbergh, Gus Van Sant, Spike Lee, Richard Linklater, Miranda July, Lars von Trier, Gaspar Noé, Alfonso Cuaron, Todd Solondz, Cristian Mungiu, Susanne Bier, Olivier Assayas, Gregg Araki, Claude Chabrol, Kore-eda Hirokazu and Abbas Kiarostami among many others.
His crowning achievement was 2014’s Boyhood, the film that Sehring funded for the 12-year span over which Linklater shot it, creating a singular feeling as the viewer watched the cast age incrementally. Boyhood garnered six Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and for Original Screenplay. Patricia Arquette won for Supporting Actress and Ethan Hawke was nominated for Best Actor. It was a crazy gamble, but also proof that for film execs in a risky business sometimes you just have to take a leap with a good filmmaker.
“It makes me laugh as I look back on it, because I wonder, what was I thinking?” he told Deadline during the film’s awards-season run in 2014. “It just made no sense whatsoever, but at the time it felt like the most natural thing in the world.”
The amount needed each year to bring together the case wasn’t crazy, but it also wasn’t easy to explain to the bean counters above Sehring.
“The finance guys would kill me on it,” Sehring told Deadline. “There was plenty of, Why are we doing this? When are we going to see a return? The way we structured the entire thing, it wasn’t like we put $5 million on the balance sheet in one shot. We’d take $200,000, plus or minus, every year, and made it part of the overall operating budget. There were some bad years, and when dollars got tight, it became a bad joke and I would be needled at the forecast meetings, but nothing that bad. Nobody ever took me to the mat or said, what the hell are you doing? We started right before the company green lit Mad Men and Breaking Bad. We had dabbled in investing in content on the film side, so it was a good time. Josh Sapan backed me. The one time the Dolans asked about it over 12 years, when I explained, they said, why aren’t you doing more things like that? I wish I could think of more things like this. That support from above made this the most gratifying thing I’ve experienced in my career.”
The cumulative list of major pics released or co-released via Sehring’s outposts are impressive. They include Michael Moore’s landmark documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, the indie phenom My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Transamerica, the Cuaron-directed Y Tu Mamá También, The Human Centipede and von Trier’s Antichrist, Armando Iannucci’s The Death Of Stalin, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, and the political docu Weiner. Among the titles produced under IFC’s in-house production company: Kimberly Peirce’s Boys Don’t Cry which won Hilary Swank an Oscar, Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding, Peter Hedges’ Pieces of April, Linklater’s Waking Life and Steven Soderbergh’s Gray’s Anatomy and Che. IFC Films’ Finding Vivian Maier and Sundance Selects’ Two Days, One Night also scored Oscar noms under Sehring’s watch.
Sehring also spearheaded IFC Films’ theatrical and VOD day-and-date model, one of the first companies to release movies in that capacity, which became an indie distribution staple. He also oversaw the renovation of the historic Waverly Theater in Greenwich Village into the IFC Center in 2005; the center expanded to five screens in 2009. He oversaw the launch the SundanceNow streaming service.
Before IFC Films, Sehring spent 20 years on AMC Networks’ television businesses, where he oversaw all programming and production at Bravo (which was later sold to Universal) and the Independent Film Channel (he was part of the team that launched the channel in 1994). Series he helped launch included Inside the Actors Studio, John Favreau’s Dinner for Five and Errol Morris’ First Person. Prior to that, he was Director of Programming at Janus Films.