The seemingly unstoppable force of SVOD leader Netflix looks like it has just run into the immovable object of the Festival de Cannes, which has decided as of 2018 to exclude films that do not have a theatrical release from its competition.
On 13 April, the world-famous film festival announced that the Official Selection of its 2017 edition will include two Netflix original films, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) and Okja.
Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) stars Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman, Elizabeth Marvel, Grace Van Patten and Emma Thompson, and is the intergenerational tale of adult siblings contending with the influence of their aging father. From IAC Films, it was produced by Scott Rudin, Baumbach, Lila Yacoub and Eli Bush.
Director Bong Joon Ho’s Okja stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Devon Bostick, Daniel Henshall, Shirley Henderson, Hee Bong Byun, Je Moon Yoon, Woo Sik Choi and An Seo Hyun. Written by Bong and Jon Ronson, it is the story of a young girl (An Seo Hyun) who must risk everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend, an animal named Okja. The film was produced by Plan B Entertainment, Lewis Pictures and Kate Street Picture Company in association with Netflix.
“The Cannes Film Festival’s commitment to giving an exceptional platform to distinct stories from the world’s most acclaimed auteurs is second to none,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos at the time of the announcement. “are thrilled at the opportunity to premiere two of our highly-anticipated films from directors Noah Baumbach and Bong Joon Ho in this prestigious forum.”
However, it is all to change for 2018 as, in reaction to fury by the association of French cinema owners at the inclusion of films that will not be getting a theatrical release with its member, the Festival de Cannes has banned streaming-only and streaming first films from its competition from next year.
In an official statement, it said that it was aware of the ‘anxiety’ aroused by the absence of the release in theatres of those films in France and that it had asked Netflix to accept that films could reach the audience of French movie theatres and not only its subscribers
It stressed that it was pleased to welcome a new operator which has decided to invest in cinema but that it was obliged to reiterate its support to the traditional mode of exhibition of cinema in France and in the world. After consulting the members of its board, the Festival de Cannes has now decided that from 2018 onwards any film that wishes to compete in competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theatres.
The move is somewhat embarrassing for the SVOD company which had only days earlier announced a major expansion of its European activities, creating 400 jobs at its new European customer service hub in Amsterdam. Netflix stated that the expansion in Europe complemented its growing investment in European productions including a new French original called Osmosis which is expected to begin production in France in 2018.