For the third consecutive edition, Netflix is nowhere to be found at the world’s premier film festival. But after more than a year of pandemic-induced streaming binge, the resolution of the Cannes dispute with the digital platform is more critical than ever.
When Bong Joon-ho presented his black comedy “Parasite” at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, the veteran writer expressed concern that the film might be “too South Korean” for audiences. He didn’t need to worry. The film garnered rave reviews and enthusiastic applause at Cannes, where it won South Korea’s first Palme d’Or. It would become a global blockbuster, grossing more than $ 250 million worldwide, and would make history by becoming the first and only non-English film to win the Best Picture award at the Oscars.
It’s hard to imagine “Parasite” taking such a path without the Cannes springboard. The sumptuous festival hosts the largest film market in the world, and the Cannes Imprimatur is still the most coveted in the profession. Last year, several great authors chose to feature in the Cannes 2020 lineup, knowing that the festival would not even take place due to the pandemic, rather than travel to Venice. Others waited a whole year before submitting their work, hoping to arrive on the Côte d’Azur this summer.
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Understandably, the world of cinema is looking to Cannes to wake up after more than a year of forced hibernation – and the festival relishes the challenge and the attention. Announcing this year’s lineup, Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux said: “Cinema is not dead.
Once again, Netflix was nowhere to be found in Frémaux’s selection of films. But the streaming giant is still the elephant in the room – especially now as the pandemic has accelerated far-reaching transformations in the film industry, strengthening the hand of digital platforms.
Cannes and Netflix have been at loggerheads since 2017, when the festival kicked off a very French crash by including “Okja” produced by Netflix by Bong Joon-ho in the race for the Palme d’Or. The move has sparked a furious backlash from cinema operators across the country, who see Cannes as the keeper of the big screen and Netflix as a deadly threat.
In an effort to stem the fury, Cannes has warned Netflix that it must allow its productions on the big screen, where the films are supposed to be shown. But when he started showing how during the screening of “Okja” the result was an embarrassing fiasco: the curtain half-up, Tilda Swinton’s head cut off, a deafening chorus of taunts and hoots, and an interruption. forced 10 minutes in the film, in the sacred Grand Théâtre Lumière, from all places.
The following year, Cannes told Netflix that it would only get an invite if it followed French distribution rules. When the digital upstart refused, festival organizers offered him an out-of-competition slot, which Netflix also turned down. Instead, it took Oscar-winning Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” to Cannes’ oldest rival, the Venice Film Festival, which has no problem with streamers.
Asked about the subject earlier this week, Frémaux took a tour of rival film festivals. Without naming them, he said some have been too quick to allow movies made by streaming giants in their main competitions, without requiring a theatrical release. This, he said, had hurt the cinema as a whole.
“2019 has been a great year for cinema. Then 2020 was the most catastrophic year in the history of cinema, ”Frémaux told reporters. He said the crisis helped platforms like Netflix achieve a “deserved victory,” but left the rest of the film industry with little to fight back.
“Some festivals first opened their doors a little too freely, to people who we do not know if they really want the cinema to survive,” replied Frémaux. Citing the Cannes record for discovering filmmakers, he added: “Which directors have been discovered by [streaming] platforms? “
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Cannes’ uncompromising stance has earned the respect and admiration of many moviegoers, especially in France, which cherishes its thriving film industry and abundance of movie theaters.
“Cannes has taken a courageous stance that is consistent with its own definition of what constitutes a feature film, as opposed to a TV movie,” said French filmmaker and screenwriter Nathalie Marchak. “It is a firm position in defense of cinemas.
The stalemate continues, however, proving costly for Cannes and Netflix. The world’s biggest film festival is surely keen to get its hands on films like Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” which is distributed by Netflix, while the streaming giant lacks the prestige and media glamor without equal to Cannes. But it is the filmmakers and producers caught in the fight who are paying the real price.
“Of course, it’s unfair for films that are bought by digital platforms and therefore cannot benefit from theatrical distribution,” Marchak told FRANCE 24. “There are wonderful films that cannot find space only on streaming platforms and you can’t blame the producers for making that choice.
The people’s choice
And what about the choice of viewers? According to filmmaker Mark Cousins, giving people the flexibility to choose between the big and small screen should be a guiding principle of the industry as it tackles the challenges of the post-pandemic world.
A decade after the release of his epic 3-hour documentary series “The History of Cinema: An Odyssey,” Cousins returned to Cannes this week with an intriguing follow-up that examines where cinema is heading in the 21st century. Created during the lockdown, “The History of Cinema: A New Generation” discusses more than 90 films that have extended the language of film and taken the medium in new directions.
“For the benefit of the public, people should have a choice, to see something for the first time on the big screen or on the small,” Cousins told FRANCE 24. “If people want to stay at home, especially if they have kids and want to eat pizza or whatever they want to do, that’s fine and I do. But people who want to see a movie on the big screen should have the option of doing that. “
The Belfast-born, Edinburgh-based director said France should be proud of its high film attendance and has every right to defend a cherished part of its culture.
“If here in France you have an audience that wants to see the epic, the sublime of cinema, then ‘bravo’, let it last a long time,” he said. “It hurts cinemas if the big movies have only one channel for the audience. The cinemas are absolutely right that it hurts them. The reason they are right is because it is unnecessary evil. People should have a choice. “
Netflix should also be credited with doing “a lot of good things,” Cousins said, urging both sides to compromise. “There is a touch of machismo here, a bit of clicking between Cannes and Netflix,” he added. “They should kiss and be reconciled.”
This is a view shared by the chairman of this year’s Cannes jury, American filmmaker Spike Lee, who directed “Da 5 Bloods” for Netflix last year and was not taken aback when he did. was asked about the subject earlier this week.
“Cinema and projection platforms can coexist,” Lee told reporters at the Palais des Festivals. “At one point, we thought that television was going to kill cinema,” he added. “So this stuff is nothing new.”