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Netflix stirs film distribution controversy at Cannes

OkjaNetflix has made history by having two films accepted to screen in competition at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, but the decision proved a controversial one.

Okja was directed by Bong Joon Ho and tells the story of a young girl who must protect her friend – a powerful animal named Okja – from the clutches of a multi-national corporation. The film shot in South Korea, Canada and the US.

In contrast, The Meyerowitz Stories follows the various members of an estranged American family as they meet in New York to celebrate the artistic achievements of their father.

France’s exhibitors’ guild the FNCF was unhappy that the festival organisers accepted the two films to screen in competition as the country’s protectionist measures set a three-year gap between movies screening theatrically and being made available on streaming-video-on-demand (SVOD) services.

In contrast, Okja’s Netflix launch date is on 28 June only weeks after its scheduled Cannes debut, while The Meyerowitz Stories will be available online in the coming months. 

“Netflix has been avoiding French regulation and fiscal obligations,” said the FNCF in a statement. “These rules allow for the financing of our strong film industry and ecosystem which in turns allows for many French and foreign movies selected at Cannes to get made.”

France’s measures are designed to prioritise French content and promote indigenous production. Indeed, France’s largest SVOD platforms are obligated to spend 15% of their revenue on the production of European content and a similar figure on French films.    

Netflix initially responded to FNCF concerns by saying it was considering a compromise solution of a day-and-date release strategy in France for both movies, meaning the films would be launched simultaneously online and with limited theatrical releases in France. 

For more on filming in France and for local contacts see our production guide.

“We are thrilled to explore any and all options that will give these films an opportunity to be viewed by as large an audience as possible, on a variety of screens, because similar to French exhibitors, we want to continue to contribute to the development and financing of films,” Netflix stated.    

However, while the company appeared to consider an alternative release strategy, the Cannes festival organisers decided to resolve the situation by allowing the company a free pass for this year. 

“Any film that wishes to compete in competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theatres,” festival bosses eventually stated.

“This new measure will apply from the 2018 edition of the Festival International du Film de Cannes onwards.”

In picking its way through its clash with the FNCF, Netflix was quick to state that SVOD services enable audiences to view content in the manner of their own choosing.

HollywoodNetflix has stirred controversy throughout the production industry, mainly by way of its impact on traditional distribution methods, with films and TV shows available directly in viewers’ homes rather than making an initial debut in movie theatres.

The Hollywood studios were reportedly taken aback when Netflix paid $90m for David Ayer’s fantasy crime movie Bright, which stars Will Smith.

Just a few years ago the movie would have been positioned as a major theatrical tent-pole release, but it will instead be launched directly into people’s homes at the end of this year.

By coincidence, Will Smith is a member of the jury in Cannes this year and defended Netflix as a viewing platform that offers easy access to titles that would otherwise struggle to find an audience. In contrast, jury president Pedro Almodovar argued that SVOD services must not be allowed to replace the traditional cinema experience.

The two different takes further spotlight industry tensions that are likely to become heightened as SVOD services continue to grow in popularity.  

Netflix also recently announced plans to shoot more content in California, despite the state’s notorious lack of filming incentive support for high-end dramas and big-budget studio features. The company has deep pockets bolstered by more than 90 million subscribers around the world and is helping drive a significant change in how media content is consumed on a global scale.

Main page image: Thauvin. Hollywood sign image: Media



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