Opinion: Cannes vs Netflix

Scandal on the French Riviera. A feud is occurring in the run-up to the famed Cannes Film Festival that could shape the nature of films released on streaming platforms and festivals, and the future of film itself. Festival Director Thierry Frémaux has made the decision that films that are released exclusively on streaming platforms like Netflix are no longer eligible to win awards such as the coveted Palme d’Or, with Frémaux justifying the decision by saying ‘‘the intransigence of their own model is now the opposite of ours’’ and that ‘‘the history of cinema and the history of the internet are two different things.’’

I guess where you stand on the matter lies in what you believe the purpose of a film festival should be. The events are often a way to market films to potential buyers so that they may receive a theatrical release. French law is especially odious for companies like Netflix, requiring distributors to wait 36 months after a theatrical release before they make a film available on streaming sites – if Netflix were to abide by Cannes’ rules, their films would take 3 years to actually go up on their site in France. After Frémaux announced the rule, Netflix chief Ted Sarandos said the new policy made the prospect of returning to Cannes ‘‘less attractive.’’

To me, this is a blow for the filmmakers more than anything. They can’t get the funding from a big studio for a 2,500 screen release, so they choose the cheaper platform of a streaming website to get their films out there. And as acclaimed films such as Okja and Mudbound demonstrate, this is not because of lack of quality, although Netflix does possess a somewhat hit and miss reputation.

But, let’s not forget that Netflix has raked in Emmy nominations, snatched itself an Oscar, and held a place at Cannes in the first place, asserting itself in an industry saturated with quality content. Why shouldn’t their films compete for these prestigious awards? Shouldn’t the point of them be to celebrate artistic excellence, rather than for festival directors to maintain their death grip on how the industry ‘‘should’’ function, essentially weaponizing Cannes? One industry source described the festival rule, established in 2017, as a way for movie-industry stakeholders to limit Netflix’s growing influence; the company has announced plans to spend more than $8 billion on original content in 2018, demonstrating its desire to be taken more seriously as a platform. Perhaps it’s influence will ultimately be impossible to ignore.


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October 2021
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