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Cannes 2017: Will Smith Clashes With Pedro Almodóvar Over Netflix

When Will Smith said, "I'm looking for the opportunity to slam my hand on the table and disagree with Pedro, I'm looking forward to a good jury scandal," he got his wish sooner than he might have thought.

Will SmithJury dinner, 70th Cannes Film Festival, France - 16 May 2017

Will Smith


Cannes got started with fireworks at the usually dull jury press conference after an underwhelming press screening for the opening film “Ismael’s Ghosts” from Arnaud Desplechin. (Read IndieWire’s review here.) Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard shine in the stylish French drama (which played out of competition), but their central relationship drama with an alcoholic filmmaker (Mathieu Amalric) is buried by overwrought theatrics.

READ MORE: The Cannes 2017 Buyers Guide: Who Will Buy Films You’ll See

Then the jury press conference exploded as jury president Pedro Almodóvar defended the experience of seeing movies on the big screen — all films should be seen first that way, he stated — and not on Netflix in people’s living rooms.

Was he actually saying he wouldn’t consider giving the Palme d’Or to the two Netflix competition films, Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” and Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja”?  And if so, would the jury go along with him?

There are multiple reasons why French exhibitors demanded that Netflix play ball with them and participate in their peculiarly French way of sharing production and cinema costs. And thus Cannes stated explicitly that they would not book a film without a planned proper French theatrical release.

After Almodóvar’s statement, juror Will Smith, demonstrating a Hollywood movie star’s knack for seizing the moment — he had already told a Canal Plus interviewer that he’s “looking for the opportunity to slam my hand on the table and disagree with Pedro, I’m looking forward to a good jury scandal” — got his wish.

Paolo Sorrentino, Jessica Chastain, Pedro AlmodovarCANNES: Meeting of the Jury, Cannes, France - 16 May 2017

Paolo Sorrentino, Jessica Chastain, Pedro Almodóvar, Pierre Lescure

face to face/REX/Shutterstock

The West Philadelphia native, who admitted he’s “a long way from Cannes” and hoped to “leave Cannes less dumb” than when he arrived, defended Netflix, saying his three children, ages 16-24, go to the movies twice a week and watch Netflix.

“I see very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix in my home,” he said. “Netflix has no effect on what they go to see in a movie theater. They are two different forms of entertainment. With Netflix they get the benefit to watch what they never would have seen, it brings great connectivity to them to the world. There’s movies that aren’t on a screen within 8000 miles of them. They get to find these artists and look them up online, the whole underground world of artists. Netflix has done nothing but broaden my children’s global cinematic comprehension.”

He added that he’ll bring his “African American eye” to watching 2-3 movies a day in Cannes. “Part of the reason why were here is to bring our personal perspective, to be confronted with potential biases,” he said. “The reason to put together a group this diverse is to have those collisions. I hope we’d have the collisions artistically, not physically in the world.”

The question is how the jury will regard all the Netflix films. Jessica Chastain, who thanked Cannes for jump-starting her career with Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life,” when asked about the continuing lack of women on juries and in competition, said she would approach each movie with an open mind.

And she admitted, “I love fashion but I love films more. My main focus is to watch the films.”

The jury assembled to award the 2017 Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival is always an eclectic melange of talent from all over the world. Chastain was on my flight to Nice and admitted while retrieving her family’s baggage that she was looking forward to jury conversations with Almodóvar, Paolo Sorrentino and Maren Ade. They are joining actors Fan Bingbing and Agnès Jaoui, director Park Chan-wook and composer Gabriel Yared to watch films from all around the globe.

READ MORE: Cannes: French Government Worker Says Netflix Embodies ‘American Cultural Imperialism’

“I’m coming in without pre-conceived ideas,” “The Handmaiden” director Park Chan-wook told Canal Plus. “I’m not thinking about who the filmmaker is or which films they have made before. I’d love to have the experience when lightning strikes, without going in with predetermined standards.”

Sorrentino said that he hoped “to find the cinema of tomorrow, in that case could be unbelievable discovery.”

But what if it’s a Netflix movie?

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Have to agree with Will Smith on this one. I am a cinema goer lover and a movie like Okja I will make sure to see on the big screen before watching in my lounge room. But Netflix is a portal to an array of films, past and present ones. They are also making great artistic choices in movies they decide on financing or distributing that may not have gotten with many other companies.

Netflix is far cheaper to the cinema and can act as a gateway to create film lovers who don’t have the luxury of going to the cinema.


My problem isn’t with watching these movies on Netflix as much as I have a problem with the way Netflix treats the filmmakers they pick up.

In previous years, the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance has gone on to at least sum sort of widespread theatrical release whether that’s something like Whiplash or Fruitvale Station or even something like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.

This years winner I don’t Feel at Home in this World anymore got picked up by the streaming service and was basically dumped into there service with close to zero publicity. They have all of these great independent films but they aren’t giving them any service and they maybe get one week as a highlighted title and then they seem to get buried.

I have no problem with films being released this way but they need to be doing more to advertise these films and treating them with more respect. Studios with theatrical releases are still the best way for movies to get wider attention to the public.

The big deciding factor in this will be how they handle Mudbound. One of the biggest movies of this years Sundance, received giant acclaim and many are predicting it to be a big player at next years Oscars. If they screw up again like they did with Beasts of No Nation, I think a lot of bigger directors are going to stay way from them for good. They need that one huge movie that breaks through like Manchester by the Sea for Amazon.


Question is……what is a Hollywood cartoon such as Smith doing there as a member of the jury?


Ryan has a good point. There are so many films bought and produced by Netflix that get very very little publicity, advertising or marketing and are simply dumped onto the site. With an algorithem of similar films as the only real way to find these new films, these new films would simply be lost. So much time, effort and money is put into making these films and for Netflix they are treated with no difference than a film decades old. This is not the way filmmakers wish to be treated. Netflix needs to change its way of dealing with film and cinema. Or get out of the film making-buying business and stick to tv series!


The issue isn’t movies playing ON Netflix. The issue is movies ONLY playing on Netflix rather than getting a theatrical run first! Will Smith does not seem to understand the issue or the controversy. Yes, Netflix is a great service. But the model they use for their exclusive titles is a threat to distributors and to the future of movie theatres. [I say this as someone in the that industry].


WhAt iF It’S a NeTfLiX moViE?


YeS. bOb FtW.


Personally, when I flip through Netflix and I see “A Netflix Original” or “Netflix Presents” on a film (increasingly a TV show, but definitely a film), I instantly ignore it. There’s no value bar with Netflix, they take anything, good or bad. They apply no creative sensibility. There is nothing to distinguish a piece of cr*p non-theatrical film from a “Netflix original.” They generally don’t get reviewed by critics, so there’s no assurance they are worthwhile, and the very few I watched initially were pretty lousy. Netflix just cares about quantity, not quality. They’re like the modern-day equivalent of Canon Films – just because they once in a while stumble across a good movie does not mean they ARE good. I wish Hollywood would stop anointing Ted Sarandos to such extremes. He is a business executive. He buys ANYTHING to show on the service, and as a consumer I’m tired of wading through all the awfulness to get to a very, VERY rare gem.


I don’t have Netflix and I don’t want to. I prefer seeing films in a theater. Sure, things haven’t gotten unruly lately w/ texting and stuff. Yet, I would like to see the film as it is on the big screen. Plus, why I want to spend some money to see movies for a month when I keep getting awful Adam Sandler movies plastered all over my face?

Your Name

Netflix picks up movies and essentially dumps them on their site. They do no publicity for them, and can’t be bothered to release them to theaters.

Case in point. Beasts of No Nation was snubbed at the Oscars. Why? Because Netflix arrogantly refused to release it to theaters.

Besides, Amazon, who also streams original content and acquires movies, releases their films to theaters. Netflix won’t do it. Are they too good for theaters?

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