Netflix Vs. Cannes: Here We Are Again
So, once again stubbornness gets in the way of evolution. For a second year, Netflix productions will not be screening at Cannes. This stems from two years ago, when Netflix got into a scuffle with French distributors because of how the streaming platform functions. Technically, there isn't a theatrical release date for Netflix films for the most part, even if films are shown in theatres, because they are placed on the streaming giant for consumption right away. Even if there is a theatrical release that precedes the Netflix launch for a film, it is in a way that goes against how films usually are spread out (when home releases are distributed, how promotional material gets marketed, and more). Of course, this got in the way of French distribution and the Cannes curation model. So Netflix was seen as a dark cloud of the 2017 festival, particularly when the film Okja came into question.
So, Netflix ditched the festival altogether in 2018. It of course was ready to release Roma to any participatory festival, so it chose Venice and TIFF; the former of which it won its top prize (the coveted Golden Lion). Roma did just fine. A year later, Netflix has decided to back out again. This is after negotiations with Cannes director Thierry Frémaux have commenced. Netflix executives will still attend the festival to pick up distribution rights for eye catching films that are premiering there, but none of Netflix's exciting line up will be there. This includes the gangster epic The Irishman, the dark ages period piece The King, Steven Soderbergh's comeback The Laundromat and more (I sense a theme with the titles this year).
While other festivals are welcoming the original productions of streaming services with open arms, this is still a blemish with both parties. Cannes is obviously held in regard as one of the most prestigious film festivals out there (down to its strict and divisive dress codes). It apparently wants to remain the figure head of the films that get featured there. These films aren't ones that happen to be shown at Cannes: these are Cannes premieres (duh). As a result, a certain power struggle occurs when a film that debuts at Cannes doesn't follow French distribution protocol, because now it can't follow in line like every other film at this festival has.
Now, Netflix is no angel either. Filmmakers are liking Netflix's ability to allow freedom when it comes to their craft. Money comes in through subscriptions, so you don't need to rely on the finances of studios alone, and you won't have to cater to their demands as a result. Yet, there is a definite stranglehold on how these films get treated as individual works. Remember the Roma theatrical run? It was brief. Too brief. It wasn't as short as the embarrassingly quick Annihilation run. These are two refreshingly original works that would have done incredibly well at a festival like Cannes (Roma's success elsewhere is enough proof). Yet, when it comes to targeting the art house crowds -- those of us who still go to theatres many times a week -- it is baffling that these films could not experience longer lives in the venues they were made for. I get that Netflix is an at-home or mobile service, but therein lies the problem.
Netflix forbids its films from being both a Netflix production, and a work that has a sufficient in-theatre life. Like Cannes, Netflix is refusing to allow exceptions of a strong degree (Roma and Annihilation were the exceptions!). Most Netflix productions go straight to the service. Noah Baumbach has had ties with the company for his last two productions, including the underrated The Meyerowitz Stories, which, again, was forgotten about because it didn't have a theatrical run of any sort. Neither did Buster Scruggs: a Coen Brothers film that whimpered into existence. There is something nice about being an exclusive, but not when it comes at the expense of your longevity.
Cannes needs to move forward a little bit. Netflix needs to move back. Both entities need to stop trying to insist that these films are solely of their own kind. News flash: films go through many festival circuits (big and small), and are welcome to bring enjoyed on a number of post-release viewing platforms (streaming, disc, libraries, television, etc.). With both of these overlords trying to do things their way and without breaking free of their contracts, streaming platforms may not be taken seriously at Cannes ever again.
Not that it's a major blow or anything. Cinema will continue with or without this feud.
Andreas Babiolakis has a Masters degree in Film and Photography Preservation and Collections management from Ryerson University, as well as a Bachelors degree in Cinema Studies from York University. His favourite times of year are the Criterion Collection flash sales and the annual Toronto International Film Festival.