France’s Cannes, arguably the most important film festival in the world, is set to begin in two weeks. Famously, streaming giant Netflix won’t be participating this year, after an ongoing corporate feud with festival authorities. In the short-term, that means Cannes won’t play new work from Alfonso Cuarón and a finally-finished Orson Welles film. But how could the Cannes-Netflix war affect the film industry in the coming years?
It’s finally happened. After the Cannes authorities tightened the rules for competitors a few weeks back, Netflix decided to boycott the festival altogether. Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos told Variety that it didn’t make sense for them to show films without competing. It’s the latest of a feud that began last year, involving the festival, the streaming industry and French film distributors.
Last year, Cannes was heavily criticized for bringing Netflix productions into the competition. In fact, the streaming company’s logo was booed as soon as it appeared on screen at the beginning of Okja. Then again, Cannes viewers are no strangers to publicly booing productions on a regular basis.
At its core, the Netflix-Cannes issue is really a competition over business models and the future of film. With its seven decades of history and its location in traditional France, Cannes understandably favors the big screen. They’re deeply connected to French distributors, and laws like a mandatory 3-year gap between theater release and streaming availability. Netflix, on the other hand, is striving to bring more film auteurs to streaming. And a three-year gap to add a competing film is about two years and 11 months too long for them.
Unfortunately, both sides failed to meet halfways. The truth is that it seems like an unnecessary fight, a war in a space where everyone should fit. With TV growing increasingly film-like, the constraints of release dates seem capricious. Still, so far the French festival has been the only major platform to make things difficult for streaming services. The Academy still awarded two Oscars to Amazon Studios’ Manchester by the Sea, for example.
The grandness of the streaming experience seems unstoppable, but there’s no reason to think it can’t coexist with theater releases. The big screen still holds its charm: otherwise projects like Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and their alternative billboards wouldn’t be popular. It’s tough to know if there’ll be a middle point between extremes or a huge divide between festivals and streaming. For now, even though many find Cannes’ decision extreme, top filmmakers like Pedro Almodóvar and Steven Spielberg share similar views.