Berlin Film Festival Responds To Exhibitor Anger Over Netflix’s Presence In Competition


EXCLUSIVE: Berlin Film Festival artistic director Dieter Kosslick has responded to an open letter from exhibitors criticizing the inclusion of a Netflix film in competition.

Yesterday, 160 German independent exhibitors sent a strong message to the festival and German culture minister Monika Grütters in which they demanded Isabel Coixet’s drama Elisa Y Marcela be removed from the competition strand. “The Berlinale stands for the big screen, Netflix the small screen,” they said. European arthouse cinema body CICAE also voiced frustration at the decision.

A festival spokesperson has told us the film will not be removed from the lineup and that its planned limited theatrical release in Spain means there is no contravention of festival rules, which state that a film must have a theatrical release somewhere. The Spanish-language drama, which debuts at the festival tomorrow, is not currently slated to have a theatrical release in Germany, however.

In a new development in response to the protest, Berlin Film Festival artistic director Dieter Kosslick has told us, “The international film festivals should take a common stance on how to deal with films from streaming platforms in the future.”

This is an interesting new proposal from the outgoing Berlin chief: a pow-wow between leading festival heads to potentially come up with a unified position on how Netflix films are shown (or not shown) at their festivals.

This debate has been raging for the past couple of years. Cannes did not have any Netflix films last year following a local backlash. Kosslick had previously said Berlin would not take Netflix films in competition but altered that stance this year. Venice took a number of high profile Netflix films for its latest edition but incurred the wrath of local exhibitors by doing so. Sundance and Toronto seemingly are not subject to the same level of exhibitor protest when it comes to showing the streaming giant’s films.

In yesterday’s open letter, the German cinema operators said they were protesting the fact that Netflix was using “the big festivals and film awards as a marketing platform and diminishing  the position of cinema as a place of culture.”

In its own supporting statement, CICAE added that the Berlinale is a publicly funded festival “and its competition should be reserved exclusively for films that will have a regular theatrical release.”

Director Coixet has a long-standing connection to the festival and has had multiple films at the event. Her latest is set in 1901 and charts the story of a Spanish woman who took on the identity of a man in order to marry her female lover of fifteen years.

Yesterday was certainly an eventful one for the venerable festival. On top of the protest from exhibitors, the Berlinale also learned that one of its most high-profile competition movies, Zhang Yimou’s One Second, was being pulled from the lineup. On the same day, the festival also announced significant new dates for 2020, which move the festival after the Oscars and BAFTAs to late February.

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