IFC Films’ Arianna Bocco Discusses the Company’s Big Presence at Cannes 2021

IFC Films will be out in force at the Cannes Film Festival with three highly-anticipated films set for the competition: Jacques Audiard’s black-and-white drama “Paris, 13th District,” Mia Hansen-Løve’s English-language melodrama “Bergman Island” and Paul Verhoeven’s subversive period drama “Benedetta.” This comeback Cannes edition will also mark Arianna Bocco’s first year on the ground as IFC president. Ahead of the festival’s start, Bocco spoke to Variety about the company’s titles, dealmaking prospects at the festival and the industry’s evolution post-COVID.

You have some of the most exciting films competing this year, did you know they would be playing in competition when you acquired them?

We didn’t and we’re very excited! All three films are very different from one another, so it will be really interesting to see how they play. Audiard’s film will likely surprise audiences because it’s unlike anything he’s done before. It’s very, very good and modern. The creative input of Céline Sciamma (the filmmaker of “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) and Léa Mysius brought in an additional layer and an interesting mix of sensibilities. We had worked with Audiard with “Dheepan” (which won the Palme d’Or in 2015) and it’s great to reunite with him on this film. As for “Bergman Island,” it’s IFC Films’s fourth collaboration with Mia Hansen-Løve following “Father of My Children,” “Goodbye First Love” and “Things to Come. I tracked this project for a very long time. And “Benedetta” (…) I’d been wanting to acquire Verhoeven’s films forever, and so this just seemed like an especially good fit for us in terms of the kind of film that it is.”

All three films are actually French productions, even if they don’t all shoot in French. Have you ever had so many French movies on your slate?

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IFC Films hadn’t handled so many French films since 2018 with Olivier Assayas’s “Non-Fiction” and Hirokazu Koreeda’s “The Truth.” It’s been up and down, depending on what the market has had and COVID put a pause on lots of things. But right now, there are a lot of amazing French films that are available to buy in the U.S. and it’s almost like too much choice.

Are you looking to buy more films at this point?

We actually just acquired two other films — besides “Paris, 13th District,” “Bergman Island” and “Benedetta” — and we’re hoping to buy one or two more in Cannes. I’m really going to focus on the films playing in the Official Selection because there are a lot of films that I haven’t seen, like the new films by Clio Barnard (“Ali & Ava”), Andrea Arnold (“Cow”), Joachim Trier (“The World Person in the World), Arnaud Desplechin (“Deception”), Francois Ozon (“Everything Went Fine”) and I’m also keeping a very open mind. I’m happy to look for a discovery.

What did you think about the virtual market which was organized right before the festival?

Well, I think it’s going to be interesting to see what will happen going forward. I think a lot of buyers will be able to continue doing virtual meetings prior to when the screenings start. It’s proven much more efficient. Some sales agents don’t like it because they want you to have seen the movie before you talk to them, but from from my perspective, it’s really efficient to get all the information ahead and start the conversation. Then when you see the movie, it’s just about negotiating a deal if you want to buy it. So I think that there’s going to be aspects of this structure perhaps that survive the current times that we live in.

How do you explain the fact that IFC Films was able to buy some of the most anticipated films playing at Cannes ahead of their world premieres?

I think that it’s just a more competitive environment now and you probably will see more and more of that happening. Every distributor is really looking ahead at what their slates are and how they’re programming. And I think that it’s all about finding the movies that fit your brand and films you can do well with. All of the Cannes titles we acquired are extremely good fits for our brand.

Do you think streamers are interested in these type of auteur films like the ones you have in Cannes this year?

I would say it depends. it seems like the streamers are veering away from acquiring any foreign language films as originals, so that does leave more opportunities for us. But it’s hard to tell because they seem to operate kind of on a whim when they like something. They have deep enough pockets to do that and when they acquire they do so on a worldwide network; which is something we typically don’t do. What you’ll see, for instance with Netflix, is that they’ll buy or sell the world because there are particular territories they can monetize. We don’t typically do that although it’s an interesting concept.

How would you evaluate the theatrical potential of these foreign auteur films in the current market?

Right now, we’re taking a conservative approach to theatrical. Theaters are still opening; audiences are still coming back. Currently we are releasing the majority of our films on a day-and-date model and are closely monitoring the patterns and what the business looks like. Overall, we’re really optimistic and hopeful that it’s going to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels, because I do believe that people want to be back in theaters.

From talking to sales agents and perhaps other distributors, do you think people will want to do some business at Cannes or just hang out at the beach?

No, I’m very optimistic. I think that it’s going to be a healthy market, judging by the volume of great package projects that were debuted at the market and the way they’ve been selling very quickly. I think the entire Cannes lineup has a very high quality and it’s a great mix of filmmakers with both established ones and up-and-coming talent, and people are really excited to see those films.

Upcoming IFC Films releases include Josh Ruben’s horror comedy “Werewolves Within” and Robert Connolly’s Australian mystery drama “The Dry” with Eric Bana.