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May 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

When Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories were screened for critics at the Cannes Film Festival this week, audience members booed when the opening credit for Netflix, which financed the two films, appeared on the screen. But as the screenings ended, the same spectators rose in standing ovations.


Those clashing reactions illustrate the schizophrenia that has been an underlying presence at arguably the world’s most influential festival devoted to the art of cinema since 1959 (12 years after the festival was inaugurated) — specifically at the adjoining Marché du Film, where the actual business of movie making, distribution, and exhibition is conducted. Ordinarily it is a peaceful coexistence, the art of cinema and the business of cinemas. Not so much so this year, however, as Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming video services present their films, which are not intended for theatrical release, alongside films that are. The conflict became apparent at the very start of the festival when renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, the president of this year’s Cannes jury, read a prepared statement in which he said that the festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or should never be given to a film that is not seen on the big screen. “All this doesn’t mean that I am not open or celebrate new technologies and opportunities, but [as long as] I’m alive I’ll be fighting for the capacity of hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer,” he said. But another member of the Cannes jury, Will Smith — who stars in the upcoming Netflix movie Bright — quickly jumped in to defend the streaming giant, observing that it gives his children the opportunity to see films that they otherwise might never have encountered. Moreover, as other filmmakers observed, Netflix provides them with a means to sidestep the “suits” who often control the final cut of their films. Bong Joon-ho’s well-known clash with Harvey Weinstein over Weinstein’s reported desire to cut 20 minutes out of his previous film, Snowpiercer, directly prompted his producer’s decision to go with Netflix for Okja. “After what we went through on the last one, it was very important to start the process knowing that we had control,” producer Dooho Choi told IndieWire. In an interview with Canada’s Maclean’s magazine, Ben Stiller, who costars in The Meyerowitz Stories, observed, “What’s positive about Netflix is they’re making the movies they used to make in the ’70s and ’80[s]. The success Netflix is having is going to encourage the studios to take more chances.” And at that film market alongside the festival, Amazon quickly snapped up rights to Todd Haynes’s Wonderstruck, from the little-known independent production company Cinetic Media, which premiered in competition at Cannes earlier in the week to solid reviews. No matter. The festival, bowing to protests from exhibitors, announced that beginning next year, only films that are shown in French theaters will be eligible to enter the competition for the Palme d’Or. That decision is not likely to be the last word on the matter. As Maclean’s observed in its article about the controversy, Cannes has become “a film festival at a crossroads.”