It didn’t take much time for Bong Joon Ho‘s, “Okja” to create a stir last May at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Not because of the film itself; booing began the moment the Netflix logo appeared on the screen. Noah Baumbach‘s Netflix-produced, “The Meyerowitz Stories” premiered two days later, and the jeers immediately rang out too. The backlash from French audiences stems from Netflix’s refusal to play by the rules of the French film industry rules, which says that every movie playing competition at Cannes has to be released theatrically. Of course, barring a few exceptions, Netflix doesn’t release its films in movie theaters. It’s an issue that has caused so much controversy in France’s cinema-passionate movie industry, that Cannes decided to ban any films that won’t play theatrically in the country – effectively preventing Netflix pictures to appear at the festival.
Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux hasn’t really given his full thoughts on the ban until now. The upcoming festival will take place from May 7th to the 18th. Fremaux, speaking to Le Film Francais [viaTHR], insists that any possible admission for a Netflix-produced film would have to mean a corresponding theatrical release.
“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,” Fremaux said.
Netflix, or any streaming service, can still show their films out of competition, but actually competing for the Palme? Forget it. That, and yesterday’s newly added “selfie ban,” have been met with mixed reaction Stateside. Over in France, filmmakers and unions were enthused with the Netflix ban as they had heavily protested the inclusions of ‘Okja,” and “The Meyerowitz Stories” at last year’s festival.
Fremaux admitted his decision to include the two aforementioned Netflix films in competition was a “risk,” and he did so because he didn’t want the festival to appear “stagnant.” The fact that both films came from well-respected auteurs (Baumbach and Joon-Ho) probably didn’t hurt either. Still, he admits to his “error” and says that he truly thought Netflix would “bend the rules” and give in by playing both films theatrically.
“Last year, when we selected these two films, I thought I could convince Netflix to release them in cinemas. I was presumptuous, they refused. We have to take into account the existence of these powerful new players: Amazon, Netflix and maybe soon Apple. Cinema [still] triumphs everywhere even in this golden age of [TV] series,” he said. “The history of cinema and the history of the internet are two different things.”
On the one hand, Netflix, who aren’t really in the business of pleasing cinephiles, probably aren’t taking this too hard. On the other hand, Netflix chief Ted Sarandosdoes love the prestige and sees himself as something of a cineaste. Plus, the company keeps taking it in the teeth from the press and well-respected filmmakers like Christopher Nolan, Tarantino, et al. (see Steven Spielberg‘s latest thoughts; he doesn’t think Netflix films would be eligible for Oscars). Truth be told, the average Netflix viewer doesn’t really care if a film competed for the Palme d’Or or not. After all, while the numbers are kept under wraps, it’s likely that Adam Sandler movies and throwaways like the critically-panned “Bright,” are keeping their subscribers happy, not films like “Okja” or “Mudbound.” The streaming algorithms versus the theatrical experience debate won’t cease. Technological and cultural shifts dictate that a shift towards the digital is inevitable, but surely the theatrical experience won’t ever completely die. At the very least, the definition of “cinema” continues to blur beyond traditional recognition. Just wait until Martin Scorsese‘s “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino, premieres exclusively on Netflix next year. Brace for that one while you can.