Cannes vs. Netflix Fight Getting Ugly

Now it’s getting nasty. Last month the Cannes Film Festival announced the inclusion of Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” in their line-up, two Netflix original films.

That sent ardent cinephiles into a tizzy, especially in France which has the most draconian release window laws in the world with distributors having to wait 36 months after a theatrical release before they make a film available on streaming sites.

Netflix, in contrast, has the most immediate release system in the world, and only releases films in cinemas occasionally. That these two films are to be shown at the prestigious festival, both NOT to get a French theatrical release, and both to be available on streaming sites shortly after (just over a month in the case of “Okja”) was seen as a heresy of the highest order.

While it’s too late for organisers and conservative French film buffs to stop these films from screening this year, and they have confirmed that there are no plans to pull either of them, it has galvanised organisers into taking action which has resulted in Cannes announcing a new rule (via Indiewire) this morning that goes into action with next year’s fest.

That rule? That films that are screened in competition at Cannes must also be released in cinemas in France. The rule has been seen as a direct reaction to streaming companies who release movies straight to their online platform and are disrupting traditional theatrical release methods.

Within hours, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings aired his thoughts on Facebook, saying that this is: “the establishment closing ranks against us. See ‘Okja’ on Netflix June 28th. An amazing film that theatre chains want to block us from entering into Cannes film festival competition.”

Tensions are growing amidst not just exhibitors and distributors but within film fan communities as well as the call for a day-and-date VOD releases of theatrical features is pushing back against cinephiles who fear the end of the cinemagoing experience if consumers are offered the choice. We haven’t reached an all out cinephile Civil War yet, but battle lines are being drawn.