Netflix has made good on its threat to withdraw five films that were scheduled to have screened at the Cannes Film Festival after festival organizers altered rules to make films produced for streaming services ineligible for competition in the famed film fest.
The question of whether movies produced for Netflix and other streaming services should compete alongside theatrical films at Cannes generated controversy last year when festival organizers allowed Netflix to enter two of its films — “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories” — into competition.
However, a rule change for the 2018 festival has caused a huge rift between the festival and Netflix after Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux told The Hollywood Reporter that while Netflix films will be permitted to screen at Cannes, they won’t be eligible to compete in this year’s fest.
“The Netflix people loved the red carpet and would like to be present with other films. But they understand that the intransigence of their own model is now the opposite of ours,” said Fremaux.
As Fremaux explained, the controversial decision to allow Netflix to enter its films into competition was predicated on his hope that Netflix would secure theatrical releases for those films but he was disappointed when that ultimately didn’t happen.
“Last year, when we selected these two films, I thought I could convince Netflix to release them in cinemas,” he said. “I was presumptuous, they refused.”
Fremaux admitted that the new digital landscape is complicating the process of what should and shouldn’t be eligible to compete for the prestigious Palme d’Or.
“We have to take into account the existence of these powerful new players: Amazon, Netflix and maybe soon Apple,” he said. “We’ll defend the image of a risk-prone festival, questioning the cinema, and we must be at the table every year.”
However, he insisted there must be a dividing line in place between a film made to be shown in a cinema and one made to stream on the internet, which Fremaux described as “hybrids” that are neither TV nor film but something in between. “Cinema [still] triumphs everywhere even in this golden age of series,” he said. “The history of cinema and the history of the internet are two different things.”
After threatening to withdraw five films that were scheduled to debut (but not compete) at Cannes, on Wednesday Netflix made it official by yanking the five films off the schedule: Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma”, Paul Greengrass’s “Norway”, Jeremy Saulnier’s “Hold the Dark”, Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” and Morgan Neville’s documentary “They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead” (about Welles).
In an interview with Variety, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos explained the decision has to do with fundamental fairness.
“We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker,” Sarandos told Variety. “There’s a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival. They’ve set the tone. I don’t think it would be good for us to be there.”
Sarandos also blasts the Cannes Film Festival as being more concerned with distribution than art. “It’s just that the festival has chosen to celebrate distribution rather than the art of cinema,” added Sarandos. “We are 100 per cent about the art of cinema. And by the way, every other festival in the world is too.”
Sarandos remains hopeful that Cannes organizers will embrace the future and “change the rules. We hope that they modernize. But we will continue to support all films and all filmmakers. We encourage Cannes to rejoin the world cinema community and welcome them back… we are choosing to be about the future of cinema. If Cannes is choosing to be stuck in the history of cinema, that’s fine.”