The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

Coup de Théâtre: Cannes v/s Netflix

Vandita Bajaj, Class of 2020

After banning flats for women and selfies, Cannes-connoisseurs seem keen to say au revoir to Netflix and other streaming services.

Despite streaming services taking over the way we consume video content, the Director of the Cannes Film Festival, Thierry Frémaux, holds the view that “the history of cinema and the history of the internet are two different things”. In the 2018 edition of Cannes, Netflix has been banned from competing for the most prestigious award-the Palme d’Or. “Cannes is choosing to be stuck in the history of cinema, that’s fine,” responded Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer.

Last year, Netflix tried to circumvent the rule by trying to secure limited release permits for their films in France. This attempt to release the film in theatres and stream it on the same date was met with an unavoidable hurdle; according to French law there has to be a gap of 36 months between the move of a film from cinemas to streaming services. Sarandos insists that, this year, “the festival has chosen to celebrate distribution rather than the art of cinema”.

Image source: France Amerique

This comes after two Netflix productions — Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories — were allowed to, for the first time, be part of the competition in 2017. This didn’t go down well with fest-goers and French filmmakers, who blame streaming services for the demise of theatrical releases. Immediate measures were sought to be taken, a new rule was introduced which would be put into effect from this year. The rule states that all movies wishing to compete in the Cannes Film Festival in 2018 must commit to being distributed in French theatres. Frémaux was hopeful that Netflix would comply and release its movies in French theatres.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings voiced his disgruntlement in a Facebook post which read “the establishment [is] closing ranks against us”. In the most recent turn of events, Netflix has withdrawn the five movies that were to be premiered at the event. Sarandos said “it won’t be good for us to be there”. He sees the rule as a lack of Cannes’s ability to modernise and support new-age films and filmmakers. While Netflix wasn’t barred from screening their films, Sarandos believes that “There’s a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival. They’ve set the tone”.

Prior to the formal statement by Netflix, producer of The Other Side of the Wind, Frank Marshall, commented: “we are collateral damage if they (Netflix) decide not to go”. The movie was acquired by Netflix in March of last year; they funded the post-production of this unfinished Orson Welles project. According to him, “there would be no movie without them (Netflix)”. Marshall, among many others, chose to stand behind the streaming platform. The late Orson Welles was a recipient of the top honour at the Cannes (before the creation of the Palme d’Or) and was involved with the festival as member of the jury. Welles’ daughter hopes that her father’s film is able to “bridge the gap between Cannes and Netflix” and asked both parties to reconsider their actions.

Netflix subscribers each have their own Netflix Originals they swear by (and excessively binge-watch). Streaming platforms have given independent filmmakers access to funds and audiences; the tens of millions of dollars and an ever-expanding viewer base mean that indie-filmmakers have the chance to tell their stories. The subscribers tend to be more experimental with what they watch since the risk of feeling dissatisfaction upon losing money is neg. Moreover, in the recent past, productions by Amazon and Netflix have made their mark at calendar events like the BAFTAs, Golden Globes, and even the Oscars. This year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary Feature, Icarus, and last year’s Best Documentary winner, The White Helmets, were both Netflix productions.

Hollywood actor Will Smith, who was also a jury member at Cannes last year, came out in support of Netflix. He insisted that Netflix has no impact on whether one chose to go to the theatre to watch a movie. Netflix, in fact, enables one to access a wider range of content and allows people to watch films they never would have seen otherwise.

Is the ban on Netflix a mark of Cannes’ dedication towards preserving the experience of going to the cinema and watching movies on the big screen? Or is it simply their inability (and unwillingness) to keep up with the times?

The French have always cherished the right to express freely, moreover they are known to be embracing of revolutions. Cannes-purists sure have some soul searching to do now that they have ended up with what could be called a full-blown, irreparable faux-pas.

Vandita Bajaj is an Arts & Culture staff writer for The Edict.

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