Amazon leads Cannes line-up, as VOD giant flies flag for cinema
James R | On 15, Apr 2016
The Cannes 2016 line-up has been unveiled – and Amazon is leading the pack.
The online retailer, which launched its VOD service only a matter of years ago, has rapidly stepped up its feature film game, courting such filmmakers as Terry Gilliam, Spike Lee and Jim Jarmusch. While rival Netflix has had several Oscar nominations in recent years, this year sees Amazon come of age, with no fewer than five films all premiering at the world’s biggest film festival.
In fact, Amazon is kicking off the whole show, having already snapped up the rights to opening night film, Woody Allen’s Cafe Society, but that’s just the first of many Amazon acquisitions to air on the Croisette: Amazon is also behind Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and Iggy Pop documentary Gimme Danger, plus Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden.
Woody Allen’s Cafe Society, which kicks off Cannes May 11, will be released by Amazon in the U.S., as will three films vying for this year’s Palme d’Or: Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and the director’s and The Handmaiden from Korean genre-film master Park Chan-wook.
Amazon’s domination of the festival arrives after both Netflix and its rival have upped their investment in feature films, with both SVOD giants snapping up a dozen films between them at Sundance. Netflix spent $7 million on Paul Rudd’s The Fundamentals of Caring, while Amazon went even further with $10 million for Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea.
Cannes’ line-up is otherwise stuffed with familiar faces and must-see titles, from American Honey – the first movie made in America by Fish Tank’s Andrea Arnold – Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, Jeff Nichols’ Loving, Pedro Almodóvar’s Julieta, Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World, Cristian Mungiu’s Brillante Mendoza and the latest from Bruno Dumont. But while Venice last year featured Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation and Berlin 2015 embraced Amazon’s Chi-Raq, by Spike Lee, this is the first time VOD services have been so prominent at Cannes – as much a sign of Cannes’ acceptance of online streaming as it is testament to Amazon’s choice of films to acquire.
From Refn to Jarmusch, Amazon is actively seeking out creative filmmakers with the promise of artistic freedom.
“It’s good to have a new partner for financing movies and (who is willing) to pay a lot of money that will buy auteur films. I’m happy,” Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux told The Hollywood Reporter.
“Amazon and the people in charge of cinema in Amazon, the people who bought Woody Allen and Nicholas Winding Refn, they are movie buffs.”
That’s certainly true of veteran Ted Hope, whom Amazon hired as its original film production chief last year, a signing that added major indie clout and experience to its offering.
But as well as that, Amazon has also repeatedly emphasised its dedication to the theatrical experience – a line intended to distinguish it from Netflix’s day-and-date approach, with Amazon’s distribution plans usually involving a cinema release followed by an online release after the traditional theatrical window has expired.
“Amazon bought the rights of these films, they will be released in theaters first,” added Fremaux.
“A good robust theatrical run is good for everyone,” Amazon Studios chief Roy Price echoed at CinemaCon yesterday, just a few hours after the Cannes line-up was revealed.
Speaking at the Las Vegas event, Amazon wooed cinema owners with its pledge to support cinema releases, announcing that in August, it will team up with Lionsgate to release Cafe Society in the US.
“Almost all of our films will have full theatrical releases. Our goals are aligned with exhibition,” Price declared, to rounds of applause.
“As you know, we’ve been very, very busy, We acquired six films at Sundance,” said Amazon Studios marketing and distribution chief Bob Berney, who also screened footage of Neon Demon and Allen’s latest.
Amazon also confirmed plans to release Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship in May in the US and Manchester by the Sea in November.
Amazon’s rights for its acquisitions so far have been limited to US theatrical distribution, with no sign yet of Chi-Raq in either UK cinemas or Amazon’s British streaming line-up (The Neon Demon is being released in the UK by Icon this summer). While Amazon has refused to confirm a UK release date for Spike Lee’s movie, though, its presence at Cannes is proof of how far the online retailer has come – and, with both festivals and cinemas on its side, it’s showing no sign of stopping any time soon.