Outcry over Netflix films prompts Cannes to change rules
NEW YORK — After a backlash over programming Netflix films, the Cannes Film Festival said that it will, beginning next year, only accept theatrically released films for its prestigious Palme d’Or competition.
In a statement Wednesday, the French festival announced that it has adapted its rules to require that films in competition be distributed in French movie theaters. The festival said it was “pleased to welcome a new operator which has decided to invest in cinema but wants to reiterate its support to the traditional mode of exhibition of cinema in France and in the world.”
Cannes this year for the first time selected two films in its official competition from Netflix: Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” and Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja.”
The selections prompted immediate criticism from French exhibitors. In France, the theatrical experience is passionately defended. Films are prohibited from streaming or appearing on subscription video on demand for three years after playing in theaters. On Tuesday, France’s National Federation of Films Distributors said the Netflix films at Cannes were “endangering a whole ecosystem.”
Reed Hastings, Netflix chief executive, responded to the festival’s move Wednesday on Facebook. “The establishment is closing ranks against us,” wrote Hastings. He called “Okja” “an amazing film that theater chains want to block us from entering into the Cannes Film Festival competition.”
The streaming service has been discussing possible deals, including a brief temporary theatrical release, with French exhibitors. The festival said it was “aware of the anxiety aroused” by the Netflix films and has lobbied for a solution. “Hence the Festival regrets that no agreement has been reached,” the festival said.
Netflix has previously cited its subscribers as its most important audience. It has offered theaters the opportunity of a day-and-date release (opening a movie in theaters simultaneously as it debuts on the service), something large exhibitors have thus far rejected.
The rule change comes just a week before the 70th Cannes Film Festival is to open. Netflix, along with Amazon, has been an increasingly powerful player at film festivals, actively acquiring films and using festivals as glitzy international launchpads for its movies. Nowhere has Netflix’s arrival been received more warily than at Cannes, a staunch guardian of cinema, and in France, the birthplace of the art form.
This year’s festival also includes television series and virtual reality, but those works aren’t playing in competition. When announcing this year’s lineup, festival director Thierry Fremaux acknowledged Netflix presents “a unique and unheard of situation for us.” But after lengthy discussion, Fremaux said he and organizers determined “the Cannes festival is a lab.”