The Netflix v. Cannes feud
The storied French film festival shuts it's door on the streaming giant
If you have been on Twitter lately (or, honestly, any social media) and keeping up to date with any entertainment news, the Netflix v. Cannes debacle must have come up on your dashboard at least twenty times by now (note: this is not a legal case). If you remember last year, there was a similar conflict between Netflix and the French Film Festival in 2017 about the presence of Netflix’s movies: Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories in the esteemed festival. The presence of the Netflix original movies in the 2017 festival lead to Cannes new regulation that required competitors to have a theatrical release in France, and “requires movies to not appear in home platforms for 36 months after theatrical release.” This years Cannes abided to this rule, thus the current controversy and banter between the festival and Netflix. Netflix has pulled all their movies from the festival in response to this.
In an interview with Variety, Cannes director, Thierry Fremaux, states, “Any film which is selected to compete will have to be released in theaters.” While the rule is to be mandated by all competition titles, it is seen to be about Netflix. Fremaux further states in regards to the issue in the interview that Cannes is “all about cinema and we wish to have films that play in competition get released in theaters.”
Netflix’s content director, Ted Sarandos, response towards Cannes new regulation states that Netflix “is choosing to be about the future of cinema. If Cannes is choosing to be stuck in the history of cinema, that’s fine.”
Sarandos and Fremaux both obviously care about cinema, and they both simply have different perspectives on distribution to what constitutes as cinema to them. Cannes and French theater owners believe cinema is to be experienced in the theatres, while Netflix views cinema as an art to just be experienced whether or not it is distributed on the big screen or on a digital platform. In a recent interview on Netflix earnings in their first quarter, Sarandos readdresses the issue with Cannes by briefly stating that in terms of where film is distributed is not “by the room you see it…It’s about making films that people love.” This is not to say that Cannes does not appreciate the art of cinema, but rather they are concerned about the long-time tradition and experience of watching a film in theaters. So, yes, maybe it can be misconstrued as seeing it as “distribution more than the art of cinema.” This seems to be a classic case of art versus commerce.
Cannes wishes to thrive in their local theaters and honor the experience of cinema in the theater— a traditional perspective, or as some may negatively say: an archaic and elitist position (which might be a bit harsh). In an interesting article that was written (not for this current controversy with Cannes and Netflix, but rather the 2017 issue) that provides insight into Cannes and the film distribution process. The article adds a defense on Cannes rule and provides background between the festival and its impact on their local theaters. On the other hand, Netflix says they are about the art, and they are too concerned about how their movies are consumed. They would rather have their movies be put on their streaming platform as soon as possible after theatrical release. Netflix is the digital age, whereas Cannes is the film age.
How media is being consumed is drastically changing with digital platforms such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. The streaming platforms all have drastically changed the culture, as well as the consumption of movies and television shows. Television shows are more likely to receive more attention on streaming platforms— Netflix originals have coined phrases, such as “binge-watching” and “Netflix and chill,” because of the platform pandering to the instant gratification needs of this generation. The reboot of once popular television shows, such as Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, Fuller House, Queer Eye, etc., demonstrates businesses making the decision to distribute on Netflix rather than a network. Also, streaming platforms allow a plethora of movies from all around the world of all types of genres to be accessible on a whim. In the Cannes and Netflix controversy in 2017, Will Smith (a juror at the festival at the time) defended Netflix:
“Netflix brings a great connectivity. There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles of them. They get to find those artists.” Smith told in an interview with Variety regarding the issue in 2017, which is much similar to the present one. In the same article, Pedro Almodovar brings an opposing view about watching through an online platform. Almodovar discusses how he will be battling to preserve the experience of watching movies in the theater and states: “It’s the capacity of the hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer.” The controversy has caused heated debates in the industry, and it is a common battle we often see in the art world.
Cannes has been a prestigious festival since its first festival in 1939 and has introduced classics that nearly every cinephile has seen. The Palme d’Or winners, the highest award given at the festival, brings a sense of prestige and recognition in the industry that Netflix can not definitively guarantee… yet. (If interested, here is a list of winners of the Palme d’Or)
Netflix, in contrast, is unsurprisingly dominating the U.S. Market according to a recent Forbes article. On Tuesday, April 17, 2018, Netflix had rose 10% in the stock market in the first quarter. Netflix during this week had added more subscribers, about 2 million, thus further solidifying their economic success. This ultimately shows that the platform will not be going anywhere anytime soon.
It is clear that neither Netflix nor Cannes will receive any sort of significant backlash from the controversy, but rather the artists will receive the brunt of it. With Netflix pulling out all of their films from Cannes, Orson Welles unfinished film, The Other Side of the Wind (2018), was a casualty in the Netflix v. Cannes feud. Welles’ daughter urges Netflix to reconsider their decision and let her fathers last film premiere at the festival. Beatrice Welles’ further urges, “Please reconsider and let my father’s work be the movie that bridges the gap between Netflix and Cannes,” in her interview with IndieWire. Netflix has yet to comment on what will happen to Welles’ last feature.
It will be an interesting next few weeks with the Cannes Film Festival of 2018 starting on Tuesday, May 8th.
Surely, there will be more witty remarks and jabs between both Netflix and Cannes regarding this controversy.