The controversy over the inclusion of two Netflix films in competition at the 70th Festival de Cannes simply will not go away. Netflix currently has no plans to release Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” in French theaters before they are released on the streaming service (both films will get a day and date release in the U.S. and other territories). This has not sat well with the French film industry or media and it prompted the festival to announce that no films acquired or produced by a streaming service will be included in Competition in future years without a confirmed theatrical release.
When this year’s festival grand jury met the press at the annual opening press conference, it was clear the topic would be brought up at some point. In fact, it turned out jury president Pedro Almodovar was already prepared with a written statement if asked. He confronted the issue head on when responding to a question about whether he’d prefer to have his film play in theaters or be available immediately in 190 countries on a service such as Netflix.
Almodovar began, “What I prefer absolutely is, yes to be seen not [just] in 190 countries but always to be seen in a big screen. That is really what I am concerned about. I promise to be very brief. You point [to] the question and the debate of this year. I’m going to read a small statement in Spanish about what you asked before.”
He continues, “Digital platforms are a new way of working images which in its way is enriching and positive. But these platforms, these new forms, should not take the place of existing forms such as the fact of going to the movie theater. They should under no circumstances should not change the habits of viewers.The only solution I think is that the new platforms accept and should obey the existing rules that are already adopted and respected by all the exiting networks. I think this is the only way to make them survive and because I personally do not conceive not only the Palme d’Or but any other prize being given to a film and then not being able to see this film on a large screen.”
What’s most important in Almodovar’s statement is the fact he said he could not support a film not being released on the big screen and being awarded the Palme d’Or or any other prize from the festival. Considering the sway most jury presidents have, that’s a potentially devastating blow to both “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories.”
Jury member Will Smith, on the other hand, had a slightly different and pointed take than his president. After answering answering the next question on what his fashion choices might be on the red carpet, Smith noted he had something to add about Netflix.
“I have a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old at home,” Smith says. “They go to the movies twice a week and they watch Netflix….I don’t know about other people’s home, but in my home Netflix has had absolutely no effect on what they go to the movie theater to watch. They go to the movie the theater to be humbled in front of certain images and there are other films they prefer to watch at home. It’s not as though they would have gone to the cinema if it was on Netflix. It’s two completely different forms of entertainment they go for. In my house Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit because they get to watch films that they never would have seen. Netflix bring a great connectivity to them to the world. There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles. And now they get to find those artists and they get to look them up online and they make contact. And there is this whole underground world of artists that gets born from that kind of connectivity. In my home it has done nothing but broaden my children’s cinematic global comprehension.”
Of course, it’s worth noting Smith is also starring in “Bright,” a $90 million thriller which amounts to the largest budget Netflix has spent on a single “theatrical” film and is hitting the streaming service in December (and at this point will not be released theatrically).
French director and actress Agnès Jaoui tried to find some middle ground, but seemed to side with Almodovar.
“We can’t pretend that tech isn’t evolving. I think it would be unfortunate need duties and tax,” Jaoui says. “It’s a very French issue. The situation isn’t the same elsewhere in the world. We really need to question the situation. We shouldn’t penalize the great directors. French people should be able to see these movies on the big screen.”
Just when you thought the press conference would return to more trivial issues, Smith unintentionally stirred things up after being asked a general question about being on the jury.
“When I first got the call I was really excited,” Smith recalls. “My publicist she called me and she was like, ‘They want you to be on the jury at Cannes’ and I was like, ‘Yes! Perfect.’ She said, ‘It’s about two weeks.’ ‘Oh, hold up. Hold up.’ ‘It’s 10 days, it’s 10 days.’ ‘Alright, alright. That’s cool.’ ‘And you’ll be watching two to three movies a day.’ ‘Um, OK. I can do that.’ I was probably fourteen years old the last time I watched three movies in a day. There movies in a day is a lot. So, I’m looking forward to it. A movie at 8:30 in the morning. We talked about that also. I’m going to be in bed every night and I’m going to be watching my 8:30 screenings wide awake, focused to give my best.”
You can’t read his sarcasm in that comment, but to say he thought the press room would think his remark was funny isn’t off base. They did not. Smith’s perspective that two weeks of moviegoing and the “difficulty” of three movies a day as a requirement as a jury member was almost more jarring than his remarks on Netflix. There are actors, filmmakers and artists who would give their left limb to be on the Cannes jury let alone the jury at the 90th edition of the festival. It was a strikingly out of touch moment for a global film icon who may not realize you don’t treat Cannes like an extended Hollywood press junket.
Look for completely coverage of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival over the next 10 days on The Playlist.