Sundance may have already come and gone, but film festival season is hardly over. In just one week, the French Riviera will open its doors to the historic Cannes Film Festival. The historic festival will welcome filmmakers and actors from all over the world to join with major distributors and celebrate their 70th year.
Not all is sunshine and rainbows at this typically idyllic event, however, as two Palme d’Or competitors recently found themselves in trouble with the festival board. Okja (dir. Bong Joon-ho) and The Meyerowitz Brothers (dir. Noah Baumbach), though now officially up for the prestigious award, were nearly disqualified from the competition earlier — and all because they’re both distributed by Netflix.
According to a report from Variety, festival board members were upset with the streaming conglomerate when they would not agree to distribute their films in French movie theatres. The festival has thus amended their regulations for next year to specify that “any film that wishes to compete in competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theaters.” That’s not quite so easy for Netflix, however, as France coincidentally also has strict laws that prevent widely released films from being released via SVOD for three years. The company is currently in talks with French distribution company The Jokers and France’s National Film Board, and may pursue day-and-date releases as an option. Through a day-and-date release, the film in question premiers on demand and in theatres simultaneously.
Netflix is certainly not used to these kinds of barriers here in the U.S., as the company is largely welcomed at prominent American film festivals. Sundance, for instance, has no regulations specifying that a film must be released theatrically — in fact, their rules state that any films in competition at the festival cannot have been released online prior to competing. In the past, American productions like Pulp Fiction, Farenheit 9/11, and The Tree of Life have won the festival’s highest prize, the Palme d’Or. This year’s American competitors include the aforementioned The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and Okja, as well as The Beguiled by Sofia Coppola, Wonderstruck by Todd Haynes, The Killing of a Sacred Deer by Yorgos Lanthimos, The Square by Ruben Östlund, You Were Never Really Here by Lynne Ramsay, and Good Time by Joshua and Ben Safdie.
While France’s distribution regulations do need to get with the times, it’s not unreasonable for such an old and noteworthy festival to prioritize the cinematic experience. Many cinephiles feel ambivalent about Netflix as a concept. It’s hard not to blame the streaming giant for the degradation of the moviegoing experience, especially when it comes to independent film. That said, Netflix also offers creative freedom and financing to certain independent filmmakers that they would otherwise be unable to find.
It would be awesome to score another American win at Cannes 2017 (we haven’t done it in six years), and even more historic if the Palme d’Or winner was a Netflix film. We’re not sure France is ready for that, though.