As we inch closer to the Cannes Film Festival‘s opening night on May 17, festival organizers find themselves bombarded by questions about Netflix‘s involvement in the festival. Last week, French exhibitors released a statement decrying Netflix’s involvement in the festival given their ongoing attempts to circumvent French film laws. A few days later, Cannes director Thierry Frémaux defended the selections of Netflix titles “The Meyerowitz Stories” and “Okja,” noting that he “hardly spoke to Netflix” during the deliberation process. While representatives from the festival would love to talk about filmmakers and titles, it would appear that the Netflix issue is one that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.
The most recent person to address the controversy is Edouard Waintrop, the artistic director for the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight series. Waintrop’s program drew heat yesterday when it was announced the selection of Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott‘s thriller “Bushwick,” another film being distributed by Netflix (but not in the United States). Afterwards, Screen International sat down with Waintrop to discuss the streaming giant’s increasing presence in the festival:
It’s a complicated question and one for which I’m not particularly well-prepared. It’s a new issue on different fronts, by which I mean there are those films which have been made for Netflix and then those which are acquired by Netflix.
In the interview, Waintrop points to 2016’s Cannes selection of Houda Benyamina’s “Divines” as an example of the blurred line between VOD and theatrical exhibition. “We had no idea it would be acquired by Netflix,” Waintrop admits, noting that they never set out to specifically screen a Netflix title before this year. “It wasn’t really a question that crossed our minds. We couldn’t have done something even if we’d wanted to.” That was also the defense that Waintrop used to discuss the selection of “Bushwick,” which was not a Netflix title at the time they picked it for the Directors’ Fortnight program. This creates an important distinction in Waintrop’s eyes: whether a title is created for Netflix or just picked up by Netflix. “At what point do you start asking whether a film is cinema or not cinema?” Waintrop asked. “If a film by Scorsese is shown only on Netflix can we say it’s not cinema?”
Finally, Waintrop reflected on Frémaux’s remarks and whether he differed greatly from the festival director:
I don’t think Thierry Frémaux and I differ in our views on this… it’s a question on which we’ll have to take a position but we will also have to be pragmatic. We’ll have to see if Netflix continues to exist in the same way and also open-up a dialogue with them as well as other players in this sphere like Amazon.
As the tension between exhibitors and Netflix continues to mount, we’ll see if this year’s Cannes Film Festival emerges as the front line of the format wars.