Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux recently banned Netflix original movies from competing, after last year's competitors "Okja" and "The Meyerowitz Stories" had successful showings. Netflix could show films out of competition, but they would not be on the same footing as films up for awards.
His explanation was tied to showing films in theaters vs. only streaming:
"Last year, when we selected these two films, I thought I could convince Netflix to release them in cinemas. I was presumptuous, they refused."
"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."
It's an elitist, snobbish tone, from Sarandos' perspective.
"It's just that [Cannes] has chosen to celebrate distribution rather than the art of cinema. We are 100% about the art of cinema. And by the way, every other festival in the world is too."
However, Sarandos told Variety Netflix will have a presence at Cannes to acquire films, because many films presenting there won't have distribution. So they may still buy movies that are in competition, and release those films via the streaming service -- which is something they do regularly from festivals these days.
Here are more comments from Sarandos' Q&A with Variety:
Are you deciding not to participate in Cannes this year?
Well, it was not our decision to make. Thierry announced the change in their qualification rules [that] requires a film to have distribution in France to get in, which is completely contrary to the spirit of any film festival in the world. Film festivals are to help films get discovered so they can get distribution. Under those rules, we could not release our films day-and-date to the world like we've released nearly 100 films over the last couples of years. And if we did that, we'd have to hold back that film from French subscribers for three years under French law. Therefore, our films they are not qualified for the Cannes Film Festival competition.
What is your message for the international film community?
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. Thierry had said in his comments when he announced his change that the history of the Internet and the history of Cannes are two different things. Of course they are two different things. But 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.
Fremaux responded, saying (via Deadline) it was a "shame" to not have Netflix showing any films, and they are "welcome in Cannes." He also said the rule that competing films must have theatrical distribution was decades old, and only got revived because of Netflix's distribution model:
"Films must be open to the possibility of being distributed in cinemas. [...] They know and love cinema, but we don't have the same position. The world is like that today. Last year when we had them on the red carpet we were very criticized. This year they won't be on the red carpet and we'll be criticized."
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