To be or not to be is the existential question for 2019. I don’t think Shakespeare had the fate of movies in mind when he penned this down, but it seems the most pertinent question for this year. With the Tribeca Film Festival set to begin the day after, all eyes are trained on the upcoming film festivals. Most importantly, all movie-lovers are waiting with bated breath for the Cannes Film Festival of this year.
Will it be the year when Netflix finally makes it mark at the festival? Or will it finally highlight the resurgence of the non-franchise standalone film? Will Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman be worth the $180 million price tag? And will ‘Once Upon A Time in Hollywood’ be a worthy ninth film for Quentin Tarantino? Those are just a few questions people are waiting to be answered once the Cannes festival gets here. And who will win the coveted Palme d’Or? Because whoever wins may just have the most successful film of 2019. Maybe not the most successful at the box office, given the impending release of Star Wars IX and Avengers: Endgame, but you get my drift here.
Given that three major movie/television franchises are coming to an end this year, it is also a year of hope for filmmaking. In case you were wondering, I am talking about the Avengers: Infinity saga, the Star Wars (Skywalker franchise) and Game of Thrones. And given that 1999 changed the movie-making business forever, maybe its performance can be emulated two years later. Most cinephiles are hoping against hope that the entertainment industry can break the spell of the spawn of the franchises, sequels and reboots. Also, it will be interesting to see how the video-streamers perform vis-a-vis the theatrical releases.
So, what exactly is the Cannes Film Festival?
So the Wikipedia-ish description of the festival goes something like this. The Cannes Film Festival or International Film Festival (Festival international du film) was founded in 1946 and is an invitation-only festival. It is usually held in May annually at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès (a fancy convention center in Cannes, France). It is one of the “Big Three” alongside the Venice Film Festival and Berlin International Film Festival. So the story goes that 21 countries got together in 1946 and organized the first festival at the Casino of Cannes. In 1947, because of serious problems it was held Festival du film de Cannes and only films from 16 countries were presented. But come 1949, the Palais des Festivals was quickly constructed for the film festival on the seafront promenade of La Croisette. And its inaugural roof blew off during a storm. And in 1951, the festival was moved to spring to avoid a direct competition with the Venice Festival which was held in autumn. So that is a short history lesson for all of you.
And in the recent times, the festival has had a rollercoaster ride keeping up with the changes in the industry. While ‘selfies’ were banned at the festival in 2015, it has been fighting the ‘Netflix problem’ for over the better part of the last decade. Though Festival Director Thierry Fremaux was initially in the favour of letting Netflix showcasing its films at the festival, he was forced to shun them in 2018. Why? Because the festival celebrated its 70 year anniversary in 2017 and changed some of their rules. Most importantly it changed the theatrical release rule. It simply said movies with theatrical releases will be considered for the coveted jury awards. That meant it was Cannes – 1, Netflix – 0.
So what’s new at Cannes 2019
This year’s Cannes Film Festival that will be held from May 14 – 25, will be its 72nd annual presentation. And the jury president will be Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. And if that name sounds familiar it is because that dude directed ‘Birdman’ and ‘The Revenant’ (and both the movies were critical successes and even Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar). Being the jury president is a big deal. Just ask Martin Scorsese, Cate Blanchett, Clint Eastwood, Luc Besson, Steven Spielberg, Robert De Niro or Tim Burton.
The Cannes 2019 movie lineup that was announced this week, an it gives us a sneak peak into why it is such a big deal. With new films from Terrence Malick, the Dardenne brothers, Ira Sachs and Ken Loach — not mention promising newcomers like Mati Diop — the glitzy French gathering holds a lot of potential. (Source: IndieWire).
But more than anything, it will be a very interesting year to see how Netflix performs at the festival. The video-streaming platform has forced many juries to bend their rules at most award functions because of their streaming only releases. And it goes without saying that it has rubbed some people, including Steven Spielberg and Christopher Nolan, the wrong way. So the main bone of contention between all parties has been the emphasis on theatrical release of the movies. Most Hollywood heavyweights insist that Netflix conform to tradition and release their movies theatrically if it wants to be considered as competition. Netflix has agreed to do so but it continues to attract more and more audience and talent because of its 139 million customer base. And that is just ruining things for Hollywood.
Not to mention, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese will also go head to head at this festival. So there is also that.
Netflix at Cannes
Cannes is the only international film festival that has been up in arms against Netflix. The Venice Film Festival has shown that it is not opposed to movies made by Netflix. Roma was showcased at the festival and also ended up winning the much coveted Golden Lion. This was the first of its awards.
But it seems like Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux is set to strike a compromise with Netflix. If reports are to be believed, the director is going to allow Netflix movies to compete at the fest, given that the film has a theatrical release in French theaters as well if they win big at the festival.
The president of Italy’s National Association of Multiplex Exhibitors had earlier condemned the Venice Film Festival’s decision to showcase Roma. However, he has welcomed the Cannes’ director’s decision to showcase Netflix movies if they win awards. He is also of the opinion that a common guideline regarding Netflix movies needs to be taken by all international film festivals that operate in Europe currently.
But Cannes did not always have this stance towards films released by Netflix. It had allowed the screening of ‘Okja’ and ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ earlier in 2017 but had to adopt an anti-Netflix stance owing to pressure mounted by French film distributors.
According to a report in the Hollywood Reporter: ‘Fremaux also played Roma at his festival in Lyon, suggesting the Cannes boss has no philosophical opposition to the streaming giant.’
Berlin Film Festival’s outgoing Director Dieter Kosslick had faced the same issues when he allowed Isabel Coixet’s lesbian period drama Elisa & Marcela, a Netflix production to be showcased at the festival. He said the same thing, that Europe’s most significant film festivals had to take a unanimous decision on featuring the movies of the streaming giant.
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