The world’s biggest and most prestigious film festival, Cannes, is a spot of fresh trouble after the Oscars.
After it rejected the entry of Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma in 2018 because Netflix backed it, the pressure is mounting on the film festival as Roma ended up picking three Oscars at the 2019 Academy Awards held at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.
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.
The inclusion of Netflix movies at the festival now hangs in the balance as two big budgeted Netflix movies are set to release in 2019 before the festival kicks off on May 13. Martin Scorsese’s mobster drama ‘The Irishman’ starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci and Steven Soderbergh’s ‘The Laundromat’ starring Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman is set to hit the screen in the coming months on Netflix.
Scorsese has already won the Palme d’Or or the best film at the festival in 1976 for his movie Taxi Driver, and he has been a constant fixture at the fest since. His Irish mobster drama is bound to win big at the Cote d’Azur festival this year as well.
What the future holds for Netflix at Cannes
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 this 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 too 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.
How Netflix has tackled the issue till now
Now Netflix has already tried the formula of the limited theatrical release of its film in France and other countries as well. It had done so for Roma as well, to make it eligible for multiple awards but this has not satisfied the European film distributors.
But Netflix has a bigger issue to tackle. French film law which states that a movie can only be released on an online streaming platform 36 months after its theatrical release.
Many French lawyers have given an out to Netflix from this law. If they agree to fund more local French films. However several local broadcasters, including CanalPlus, signed up and have been granted a much smaller theater-to-SVOD window, between 17 and 15 months, depending on a film’s budget.
However, with three new Oscars for Roma, Netflix will have more leverage when negotiating with Cannes and other film festivals in Europe now. But Netflix has an uphill battle pending. One with European film distributors.
In other news: Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican director of the Oscar winners ‘Birdman’ and ‘The Revenant’ will lead this year’s Cannes Film Festival jury, the festival said.
It is not just film festivals, its Hollywood too
Netflix tried to work around this supposed roadblock in attempting to buy a major theater chain, Landmark Theaters, in 2017 through the deal never materialized.
Theaters, by-and-large, have refrained from associating themselves with Netflix because they did not let go of the 85-to-90 days exclusivity that feature films bring with them. Their thinking is that if once Netflix is allowed to break this pattern, all hell will break loose and the novelty of coming to the cinema will be lost forever.
Another reason why theaters apart from iPick and Landmark refuse to play Netflix films is that they are not happy with the Netflix condition that the movie will be aired on their platform from the same day. They believe that the novelty of the movie-going experience will be lost if the content is already available on phones everywhere at the same time.
While directors and producers see a massive payday, unlike anything they have seen from studios, their main compromise is in knowing that their movies may not be able to compete for the Oscars.
The Hollywood directors’ argument
In 2018, while promoting his latest venture Ready Player One, legendary director Steven Spielberg had gone on the record and lashed out at Netflix.
He said that Netflix should not compete at the Oscars because ‘it essentially creates TV movies’ and because it was eating away the limelight that was reserved for theatrical films.
He also said that releasing a movie at a theater for a few days (limited release) did not make it eligible for the Oscars. “You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar,” Spielberg noted.
“I don’t believe that films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination,” he said.
Spielberg was not the first A-list director to make such comments against Netflix. Earlier, Batman trilogy director Christopher Nolan while promoting his movie Dunkirk had made his displeasure for Netflix apparent as well.
“Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films,” Nolan had said. “They have this mindless policy of everything having to be simultaneously streamed and released, which is an untenable model for theatrical presentation.”
An argument can be made that both Spielberg and Nolan being big-blockbuster directors and producers and they will never find it difficult to convince studios to produce and distribute their films. However, there is more nuance to his argument than meets the eye.
His argument also targets big studios who have shifted their focus on making sequels and rebooting/reimagining scripts. “They have all but stopped supporting movies with an original idea and storyline,” he argues.
Spielberg admits that Netflix is a part of the natural evolution of television which has rivaled theatrical cinema for decades but now he feels that movie studios have almost given up on the fight with Netflix.