Netflix has officially pulled out of the the Cannes Film Festival due to a change in the festival's rule regarding distribution.
Last year, Cannes made the groundbreaking decision to include Netflix to screen films as a part of the competition. It seemed to be a really great experience for Netflix, as they were given the opportunity to screen Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories, which received critical acclaim but no awards. However, that critical acclaim heightened excitement for the release of each of those films, which is a pretty great advertising strategy. Then Cannes changed the distribution rules, requiring theatrical distribution for participating films that outright inhibits Netflix from participating. So in light of this new rule, Ted Sarandos, Netflix's Chief Content Officer, has officially announced the decision to pull out of the festival.
Variety spoke exclusively with Sarandos about the decision, where he went into full detail about his confusion at the new rule and the decision to not participate. Sarandos explained “We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker. 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.” While Netflix won't participate in the film competition, certain executives will be there looking for potential acquisitions. Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux implemented the new rule after his disapproval of Netflix's participation at the festival last year.
In addition to the new rule, there are also French laws banning the home streaming of movies until after 36 months after theatrical distribution. That means that any theatrical distribution Netflix could implement in France to be apart of the festival would result in those films not streaming on Netflix in France for another three years. These rules are partly put in place to protect cinematic revenue, but it ultimately hurts any streaming service that would attempt to participate in Cannes.
While it may seem a little ambiguous as to why this is a big deal, it's probably right to expect that this will hurt Cannes down the road. It's not as if Netflix doesn't acquire "important films". They even proved that last year with the acquisition of Mudbound at Sundance, which was even nominated for four awards at the 2018 Oscars ceremony. The future of cinema is becoming more inclusive as to what the distribution format looks like, and Cannes' refusal to acknowledge this shows a lack of forward thinking and progressiveness.
While Netflix certainly doesn't need Cannes right now to successfully promote their films, Sarandos did call Cannes out on being more interested in distribution than the art of cinema itself. Based on these new rules, that arguably seems to be true. Still, he appears confident that this rule won't be permanent, and encourages Cannes to embrace the "future of cinema." And if they don't? That's OK too. As Sarandos put it, "[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."
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