A very public controversy at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017 involving Netflix, the event’s organizers, and the French film industry continues to rage in 2018. On the eve of the festival revealing its main lineup in April, Netflix said it was removing its titles from consideration. After last year’s flap, the festival had said it would not accept Netflix movies in competition unless they were open to theatrical distribution in France.
A regulation long on the books in France is the source of the upset. Under an arcane windowing system, films cannot play on SVOD services until 36 months after their theatrical release. Clearly the Netflix straight-to-platform strategy is not built to fit that model. And while the industry largely supports updating the rules, the exhibition sector—led by lobby La Fédération Nationale des Cinémas Français (FNCF)—is staunchly opposed.
So now we have a Cannes Film Festival without Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, which had been offered a competition slot, and that won’t see the previously unfinished Orson Welles movie The Other Side of the Wind.
And this is not a situation expected to blow over anytime soon. Proposals have been put forth to modify the existing rules, but there’s been no agreement among the various industry groups as yet. We’re at a standstill, and it’s likely the government will become the ultimate decider of fates.
So contentious is the political situation that the FNCF did not respond to the questions we put to them. On the pro-change side of the argument, Wild Bunch co-founder Vincent Maraval, whose company scandalized the powers-that-be well before Netflix entered the market by releasing Abel Ferrara’s Welcome to New York on its own VOD service and bypassing theatrical to do so, was more willing to have his say.
What’s your take on Netflix boycotting Cannes?
I think it’s really stupid. It’s a schoolyard reaction.
Can you elaborate on that? I get the sense there was a lot of pressure on the festival from outside.
Yes, Thierry [Frémaux] has the pressure of the FNCF, which is an imbecilic lobby that doesn’t like cinema. They sell candy and prefer showing operas or the Eurovision Song Contest than Cannes movies. [But] the Netflix boycott is idiotic. They should instead help Thierry show to what extent they are active in cinematic creation. The fight is to denounce the archaism of the narrow vision of [national cinema body] the CNC and the FNCF. The boycott won’t help that. There are plenty of other solutions like, for example, negotiating a special window for Netflix films that go to Cannes on the condition they can be released in cinemas, and where SVOD would be considered like pay-TV just as it is everywhere else in the world.
Why hasn’t the windows system advanced with the times?
Because the lobbies of the old French families that control our economy are paralyzing all evolution of the new entrants.
Outside of some distributors and exhibitors, the industry in general seems quite in favor of change. Why?
Because the system is suffocating; because piracy profits from the situation while at our northern borders it doesn’t exist; because Canal+ is in difficulty and has dropped independent cinema; because independent distribution is dying.
What’s scaring the exhibitors?
Everything! Change, the future, losing their exorbitant margins, which make it the only profitable sector in film. What a joke! What’s scaring them is to open their eyes to the fact that their theaters today only bring in an aging public while in Asia or Latin America, moviegoing is a young person’s leisure activity. Movie theaters prefer to put state protections in place rather than question why young people prefer to watch their tablets over going to the movie theater—even though they go to concerts, restaurants, etc.
If the windows system changed, how could the exhibitors protect themselves?
By creating events, by modernizing their theaters in the same revolutionary way they did in the 1980s when already VHS, Canal+ and home cinemas were calling into question their attractiveness.
Is Netflix a scapegoat?
Should Netflix have an obligation to invest in French and European production like the other providers in France? Would that change something in the argument?
They already do it because Netflix is the number one client of French cinema abroad.
What defines a “film”?
Today, French fancy has succeeded in defining a film by its distribution method while it should be by the means of its creation and production. A film is the creation of a unique and original work.
Does politics have a place in this discussion?
It shouldn’t, but it’s seated itself at the table to protect a couple of big industrial groups in contempt of creation.