Netflix backs out of Cannes after festival bans films without theatrical release dates
While filmmakers around the world prepare to make the trek to France for one of the most prestigious events in world cinema, Netflix is grounding itself on domestic soil by digging its heels deeper into steadfast anti-theatrical convictions.
Following the Cannes Film Festival’s announcement last year that it would no longer host films that did not commit to “being distributed in French movie theaters” among its high-profile competition slate, the streaming giant’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, confirmed to Variety that Netflix will not screen any of its upcoming full-length narratives in competition on the Croisette.
“We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker,” Sarandos told the publication of the move, which was announced last year by Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux. “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. I don’t think it would be good for us to be there.”
When reached for comment, a representative told EW that Netflix will make no additional statements on Sarandos’ interview.
French theater exhibitors reportedly took issue with Cannes allowing Netflix projects into the main competition despite the films failing to secure wide theatrical release dates in the region. Still, Cannes allowed both Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2017 edition, but indicated it would exclude streaming-focused movies from the lineup in the future. National law in France mandates that films can’t appear on home streaming platforms for 36 months after their initial theatrical release.
“Cannes is aware of the anxiety aroused by the absence of the release in theaters of those films in France. The Festival de Cannes asked Netflix in vain to accept that these two films could reach the audience of French movie theaters and not only its subscribers,” a statement from the Cannes board read at the time. “The festival regrets that no agreement has been reached.”
Members of the film criticism community have also recently expressed concern over Cannes’ decision to eliminate press screenings before the festival’s star-studded red carpet premieres. Some speculate that the festival is looking to minimize the effect of negative critical reaction to a particular film ahead of a given picture’s debut, though Frémaux told Variety the move comes after “planning hadn’t evolved for 40 years,” so “it was time to reform…. not against critics but IN FAVOR of gala evenings.”
In recent years, Netflix has increased its profile on the cinematic scene, acquiring Dee Rees’ eventual Oscar nominee Mudbound out of Sundance in 2017 in addition to releasing Angelina Jolie’s latest directorial effort First They Killed My Father, Abbi Jacobson’s 6 Balloons, the Academy’s reigning best documentary champion Icarus, and the sci-fi franchise spectacle The Cloverfield Paradox over the last 12 months. Netflix has qualified films like First They Killed My Father and Okja for Oscar consideration via small, limited theatrical runs in select cities.
“We hope that they do change the rules. We hope that they modernize. But we will continue to support all films and all filmmakers. We encourage Cannes to rejoin the world cinema community and welcome them back,” Sarandos, who further admitted he doesn’t “think there would be any reason” for Netflix to screen films out of competition at Cannes, continued. “We are choosing to be about the future of cinema. If Cannes is choosing to be stuck in the history of cinema, that’s fine.”
The Cannes Film Festival, which announces its main competitive slate Thursday and runs May 8-19, did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment. Read Variety‘s full interview with Sarandos here.