Can you decline to be a member of a club that has rejected you? Well, Netflix has done something like that on the eve of Thierry Fremaux announcing the Cannes Film Festival lineup. Speculation has been brewing in recent days that Netflix wouldn’t allow its movies to be among the festival’s extended program and that is seemingly how it will be.
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 but today the streaming giant has gone a step further and confirmed that none of its films will play in any of the festival’s sections. Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos confirmed that movies wouldn’t play Out of Competition but said some executives will still attend the event. Cannes wasn’t available for comment.
Last year Netflix had two movies in the festival’s 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 to essentially make Netflix persona non grata. The timing was certainly uncomfortable for Netflix and its filmmakers and you can’t help but speculate that Netflix’s own hit back today has been purposefully timed for the eve of the lineup.
Netflix movies that might have featured on the Croisette this year included Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold The Dark, long-unfinished Orson Welles movie The Other Side Of The Wind and David Mackenzie’s Outlaw King, starring Chris Pine. The first two movies, at least, were widely speculated to be in the mix for the lineup.
The issue is relatively simple for the French: they care a lot about their theatrical bows. In fact, the Federation of French Cinemas (an analogy in the U.S. would be the National Association of Theater Owners) has been at odds with streaming services like Netflix for a long while. According to the distribution windows there, a 36-month window exists for films not to be shown via streaming after its theatrical bow. France is something of an outlier in how steadfastly it protects a lengthy theatrical window, however. And Netflix films routinely play at other major festivals.
The matter of a theatrical release in France was an issue that also came up on the Martin Scorsese film The Irishman when the French distributor for the film wanted the film theatrically and refused to give in on that point with streaming service Netflix and STX. That prompted Scorsese and Robert De Niro to then personally become involved in the negotiations and make goods to be made to accommodate distribution wishes.
Ted Sarandos confirmed last week’s speculative reports about a Netflix bailout from Cannes to Deadline’s sister publication Variety.
Anita Busch contributed to this story.