Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux has responded to Netflix’s reveal yesterday that it would not be sending any of its movies to the festival. Speaking at the lineup press conference this morning in Paris, Fremaux said it was a “shame” not to have movies backed by the streaming giant at the festival in some form but that there had been “constructive dialogue with Netflix, contrary to appearances,” and that Netflix remains “welcome in Cannes.”
Fremaux said Cannes had wanted two Netflix movies this year, which were initially offered by the online titan: Orson Welles long-in-the-works The Other Side Of The Wind for an out of competition slot and another unnamed movie in competition, likely Hold The Dark by Jeremy Saulnier or Roma by Alfonso Cuaron. He noted that it was a shame not to have a movie like Welles’ there particularly after the giant of cinema had previously won the Palme d’Or and served as head of the festival’s jury.
“Films must be open to the possibility of being distributed in cinemas,” he explained. The length of France’s theatrical window was the sticking point for Netflix, however. These are movies that “everyone wants to see,” said Fremaux. “It’s too bad. Welles was president of the jury and of course had the Palme d’Or. His place was here. I saw the film, we all had a desire to see this film. It’s not an accident that Netflix is the rights holder of the film, though. They wanted to do it. 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.”
Fremaux concluded, “Netflix is welcome in Cannes. We have an ongoing debate. We want to tell Ted [Sarandos] and Reed [Hastings] and Scott [Stuber] to come, let’s keep talking.” Cannes executive Pierre Lescure added on the Welles movie, “We regret it because it was a lovely gesture of cinema undertaken by Netflix and now they block it. It would have been a nice gesture but they didn’t want to do it. The debate is still open.”
Fremaux also claimed that the “rule” that competition movies must have theatrical distribution was in fact decades old but only became an issue last year because Netflix’s distribution model made it necessary to remind people of it.
Last year the festival made it clear that the streaming giant’s movies wouldn’t be welcome in main competition unless they had local distribution and Netflix respected France’s strict windowing policies. Netflix doesn’t adhere to traditional theatrical windows so that eventuality was always unlikely. Yesterday, the streaming giant went a step further and confirmed that none of its films would play in any of the festival’s sections. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos said the streaming giant wouldn’t consider Out Of Competition slots.
The Netflix issue is complex in France. Many filmmakers would like to see a relaxation of the country’s strict windowing policy but the exhibition lobby is strong and is fighting tooth and nail to keep hold of a 36-month window between cinema release and streaming debut. France is something of an outlier in how steadfastly it protects a lengthy theatrical window, however. Netflix films routinely play at other major festivals.
Last year Netflix had two movies in Cannes’ main competition: Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. Following a ruckus from French theater owners and unions Fremaux issued a statement during the festival which essentially made Netflix persona non grata.