Cannes changes entry rules following Netflix controversy
James R | On 10, May 2017
Cannes has announced that it will be changing its entry rules for future festivals, following controversy surrounding the premiere of two Netflix films ar this year’s event.
The streaming giant will be in attendance on the Croisette for the first time, screening of Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and Bong Joon Ho’s Okja. They will both have their world premieres In Competition, before being released on Netflix later this year.
It’s a big step for the streaming giant, which has previously faced challenges from France’s restrictive distribution rules, which mean that any film screened in cinemas cannot debut online until three years later. Netflix originals therefore tend to bypass French cinemas altogether, so they can premiere online alongside the rest of the world. Indeed, last year, the streaming giant acquired Divines, which won the Camera d’Or prize at Cannes, but it has not yet been released on Netflix for French subscribers.
That archaic approach has led some speculation surrounding the relationship between Netflix and Cannes, as well as philosophical debates about the definition of what counts as “cinema” and what doesn’t. It’s a striking contrast to last year’s festival, when Amazon opened the event with Woody Allen’s Cafe Society. While Amazon is favoured by Cannes and the wider film industry because it places more of an emphasis on theatrical distribution, though, the two businesses operate within very different parameters: Amazon tends to acquire only the US theatrical rights for its film, teaming up with a distributor to release them in cinemas. Netflix, on the other hand, buys global rights for its acquisitions: a year ago, when Amazon was at Cannes, Prime Video didn’t even exist in France, while the decision to release Cafe Society in cinemas would have gone to a different distributor altogether.
With Netflix still planning to release Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories in US cinemas (and potentially in theatres in other countries – it did so in the UK with Beasts of No Nation, for example), does that mean that it is any less eligible to be at Cannes than any other distributor? And does it even matter where films are ultimately seen by audiences, if the online company is helping to fund filmmakers such as Bong Joon-ho? After all, if films solely waited for theatrical distribution, they risk suffering the fate of the director’s previous movie, Snowpierce, which has still never been released in the UK.
Now, Cannes has responded to the chatter with a statement clarifying its stance – and changing its rules for future years.
“A rumour has recently spread about a possible exclusion from the Official Selection of Noah Baumbach and Bong Joon Ho whose films have been largely financed by Netflix,” announced the festival today. “The Festival de Cannes reiterates that, as announced on April 13th, these two films will be presented in Official Selection and in Competition.”
“The Festival de Cannes is aware of the anxiety aroused by the absence of the release in theatres of those films in France,” it added. “The Festival de Cannes asked Netflix in vain to accept that these two films could reach the audience of French movie theatres and not only its subscribers. Hence the Festival regrets that no agreement has been reached.”
“The Festival is 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,” it concluded. “Consequently, and after consulting its members of the board, the festival has decided to adapt its rules to this unseen situation until now: any film that wishes to compete in Competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theatres. This new measure will apply from the 2018 edition of the Festival International du Film de Cannes onwards.”
For more on the Cannes 2017 line-up, including Amazon’s presence at the festival this year, click here.