The Cannes Film Festival is taking a stand against Netflix. Responding to a rumor that the streaming service’s Okja, directed by Bong Joon-Ho, and The Meyerowitz Stories, directed by Noah Baumbach, would be excluded from awards consideration after being included in the Competition lineup, the festival released a statement clarifying and adjusting its positioning going forward. The short version: From now on, if you want to compete at Cannes, your movie had better be released in French movie theaters—not just online.
There has long been a point of tension between Cannes and Netflix, to the extent where the inclusion of Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories came as a bit of a surprise. Netflix films had previously been snubbed and festival officials had advocated for “discouraging” the streaming service’s online-first approach to release. The two movies included in Cannes’ lineup this year are slated for theatrical bows stateside, but according to the festival’s official statement, “no agreement has been reached” to get the moves into French cinemas and the effort to reach one was made “in vain.” However, the statement does clarify that this rule goes into effect next year, so Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories will remain in competition and eligible for the Palme d’Or.
The new rule applies to other streaming services as well, but Netflix’s combination of festival-friendly content and online-first strategy is distinct among its primary competitors. Chief among its rivals is Amazon, also represented at Cannes this year with Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck. Amazon has emerged as a major player on the festival circuit, recently acquiring rights to a whopping 40 films out of 2017’s South by Southwest (and paying $1.9 million in upfront cash bonuses) through its Film Festival Stars program.
Cannes’ decision is perhaps the most significant in the ongoing debate over Netflix’s handling of independent and other quality films. The streaming service’s method of distribution for indie hits such as 2017 Sundance champ I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore has drawn criticism for the way it tends to bury and underpromote its streaming films, even as they potentially reach a far wider audience online than they could in specialty theatrical release.
Here’s Cannes’ official statement:
A rumor has recently spread about a possible exclusion of the Official Selection of Noah Baumbach and Bong Joon-Ho whose films have been largely financed by Netflix. The Festival de Cannes does reiterate 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 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. 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. Consequently, and after consulting its Members of the Board, the Festival de Cannes 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 theaters. This new measure will apply from the 2018 edition of the Festival International du Film de Cannes onwards.