For more than two decades, seasoned movie executive Arianna Bocco ’87 has brought dynamic, diverse and thought-provoking independent films to audiences.
Bocco has spearheaded acquisitions and productions for IFC Films since 2006 and before that for Miramax Films and New Line Cinema, in that time obtaining the rights to some of the most critically acclaimed independent movies. She is reputed to be among the most successful acquisitions executives in the independent film industry.
In December, Bocco was named president of IFC Films. In addition to leading acquisitions, she oversees theatrical film distribution and the company’s streaming service.
Since the pandemic hit, IFC employees have been working remotely, so Bocco runs the NYC-headquartered indie distributor from her Bradley Beach, New Jersey, home. Her dog, Henry, a chihuahua/beagle mix, is usually by her side.
The effects of the pandemic on the movie business are well reported. In short, it roiled the industry. Yet last year, as theaters shut down and studios postponed release dates, IFC made what Bocco described as a “nerve-wracking” gamble to continue to release movies.
“A lot of distributors held back,” Bocco recalled. “But we decided to lean into it and not only release films, but to try to adhere to as normal a release schedule as we could. We decided to throw the rulebook out the window.”
IFC pivoted quickly by distributing films to drive-in movie theaters — a first for the company — and the small number of cinemas that remained open. They continued their pioneering strategy of simultaneously releasing movies in theaters and across on-demand platforms.
Ultimately, their plan worked. Last summer, CNBC trumpeted IFC Films as a “box-office champ,” and Comscore heralded the distributor as “a beacon of light for the industry.”
We decided to throw the rulebook out the window.
The pandemic-induced closure of movie theaters across the country — some permanently — has hit very close to home for Bocco. The 100-plus-year-old ShowRoom Cinema on Main Street in Bradley Beach, just a five-minute walk from her house, shuttered last year.
Its closure motivated Bocco to recruit a group of film industry leaders connected to Bradley Beach, including New Jersey resident and actor Patrick Wilson, to launch a fundraising campaign to revive and expand the theater.
“I took it upon myself to figure out how we can save it,” said Bocco. “That has been a personal mission. We are in the process — a group of investors — of buying it, and we’re going to turn it into three screens, and we are going to operate it as a movie theater.”
The team has aspirations to revive other theaters across the country. “We have to engage ourselves as active participants in preserving our industry,” she said.
Amidst her busy lifestyle, Peddie remains ever-present in Bocco’s mind. “It was one of the most awakening and enlightening times in my life,” she said. “It was very much a place where I was encouraged.”
At Peddie, through her involvement in drama club, the Amphion, The Peddie News and yearbook, Bocco began to formulate what her love of the arts meant for her future. “When I look back on all the things I did, I was always more of the producer, which is kind of what I do now. It really makes sense to me that I’m having the career that I have based on what I did in high school,” she said.
Over the last 15 years, Bocco has helped create an extensive library of celebrated independent films for IFC, including Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” Jennifer Kent’s “The Babadook” and Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.”
Selecting a favorite amongst her 400-plus acquisitions is difficult.
“It’s hard to choose. There are some filmmakers that I gravitated towards, like Armano Iannucci (‘In the Loop,’ ‘The Death of Stalin’) and Michael Winterbottom (‘The Trip’ series) and Olivier Assayas (‘Clouds of Sils Maria,’ ‘Personal Shopper’).
We did Barry Jenkins’ first movie (‘Medicine for Melancholy’). He went on to win an Oscar for ‘Moonlight.’ And we did Steve McQueen’s first movie (‘Hunger’). The recent documentary ‘MLK/FBI’ was a really rewarding experience.”