Cannes versus Netflix war: Cinema's loss?

Saibal Chatterjee

May 10, 2019 13:52:19 IST

For the second consecutive year, no film from Netflix will play in the Cannes Film Festival, which runs from May 14 to 25. With no rapprochement in sight despite ongoing talks, the world’s premier film festival is still out of bounds for the streaming giant.

For those who came in late, French law mandates a three-year gap between a film’s theatrical release and its release on a streaming platform — a stipulation that Netflix is naturally loath to adhere to. With Netflix’s rise as a platform for quality content, friction over the issue last year meant the streaming brand took its original film, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, and Orson Welles’ unfinished mockumentary, The Other Side Of The Wind, to Venice rather than screen these films at Cannes. Roma won the Golden Lion at Venice, and went on to win multiple Oscars.

The world is watching the Cannes-Netflix faceoff with keen interest this year, naturally. Many feel the future of cinema hinges on the outcome of this theatrical-versus-streaming battle.

Filmmakers are divided, but French exhibitors — and Cannes — have received support from Jean-Luc Godard and Steven Spielberg. After Roma scooped several Oscars this year, Spielberg urged the Academy to lay down rules that would make Netflix films ineligible for future nominations. “I want to see the survival of movie theatres,” the 72-year-old filmmaker said.

In 2017, Cannes programmed two Netflix titles, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories in the Competition. Netflix released the two films digitally weeks later, ignoring French theatrical law. The Federation of French Exhibitors was up in arms, forcing Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux to drop Netflix entries in 2018. At the presser to announce the 2019 official selection, Fremaux quipped: “Roma, I remind you, was a Cannes film, but one we showed in Venice.” Journalists didn’t know how to react.

The rub lies there. There is a certain uncertainty over the issue, and it isn’t only in France. Hollywood studios, too, are wary that Netflix, which joined the Motion Picture Association of America recently, might be seeking to alter the cinema-watching ecosystem by taking more and more films off the theatrical circuit.

American director James Gray, four of whose six films including The Immigrant (2013) has competed for Palme d’Or, has accused Cannes of being stuck in the 1960s.

In the Cannes versus Netflix war, the contention against Netflix, however, makes sense even if you believe one should be free to choose one’s mode of movie consumption, because the beauty of cinema lies in the movie-hall experience. Ideally, what could be better than Cannes and Netflix meeting midway without upsetting the French theatre owners? We can only hope that cinema wins.

Updated Date: May 10, 2019 13:52:19 IST

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