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Bong Joon Ho Responds to Cannes Netflix Debate: ‘Physical Theaters and Digital Streaming Platforms Will Co-Exist’

The lauded filmmaker takes a smart stance on the latest battle between theaters and streaming. He's right.

Tilda Swinton, "Okja"



When it comes to the raging debate between the merits (and predominance) of theatrical releasing versus streaming platforms, lauded Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho has come out with perhaps the most controversial take yet: hey, how about both of them?

Ahead of the Cannes premiere of Bong’s next — the Netflix-made “Okja” — the auteur was on hand (alongside Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos) for a presentation in Seoul earlier today, where the pair inevitably sounded off on the latest kerfuffle between theaters and streaming. Earlier this month, the festival denied that they would be dropping either of the Netflix offerings on their slate — “Okja” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” — despite a controversial reception from movie-goers adamant that Cannes films receive theatrical distribution in the fest’s home country.

READ MORE: ‘Okja’ Teaser Trailer: Tilda Swinton Battles a Beast in Bong Joon Ho’s Netflix Monster Movie

Cannes even went so far as to issue an official statement on the matter, which read in part, “A rumor has recently spread about a possible exclusion of the Official Selection of Noah Baumbach and Bong Joon Ho whose films have been largely financed by Netflix,” Cannes said in a statement. “The Festival de Cannes does reiterate that, as announced on April 13th, these two films will be presented in Official Selection and in Competition.”

The statement added, “The Festival de Cannes is aware of the anxiety aroused by the absence of the release in theaters of those films in France. The Festival de Cannes asked Netflix in vain to accept that these two films could reach the audience of French movie theaters and not only its subscribers. Hence the Festival regrets that no agreement has been reached.”

As was previously reported, at the press conference announcing the Official Selection, Cannes director Thierry Fremaux “hinted that some theatrical distributors had been involved in conversations about distributing ‘The Meyerowitz Stories,’ but Netflix has so far denied those possibilities.”

The Meyerowitz Stories

“The Meyerowitz Stories”

Atsushi Nishijima

Thanks to the outcry stirred up the inclusion of “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” Cannes announced a new provision for future Competition entries.

Per the festival, “The Festival is pleased to welcome a new operator which has decided to invest in cinema but wants to reiterate its support to the traditional mode of exhibition of cinema in France and in the world,” the festival said. “Consequently, and after consulting its Members of the Board, the Festival de Cannes has decided to adapt its rules to this unseen situation until now: any film that wishes to compete in Competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theaters. This new measure will apply from the 2018 edition of the Festival International du Film de Cannes onwards.”

But there’s one person who isn’t exactly concerned with the discussion: Bong.

“I don’t take seriously the recent debate [between Cannes, Netflix and French film board CNC],” said Bong at today’s event, per Variety. “In the end, physical theaters and digital streaming platforms will co-exist.”

Per The Korea Herald, Bong’s belief in the possibility of co-existence was a major theme of his comments today, and the outlet reports that he also noted, “This incident is just a process of finding out the best way for them to co-exist. There are many ways we enjoy movies. They said that movies would become obsolete after TV came out, but they still co-exist.”

READ MORE: Awards Race Disruption: Why ‘Get Out’ and Netflix Can Afford to Rewrite the Rules

Bong is speaking from a rarefied position, as a filmmaker whose latest will get a splashy Cannes premiere, a massive Netflix push, and a targeted theatrical release. But it’s heartening that he’s not discounting either, especially during the throes of a debate that so often falls into one camp or another, with little middle ground between.

(As of this writing, neither “Okja” nor “The Meyerowitz Stories” will receive even a limited theatrical release in Cannes’ home country, though Monday’s presentation confirmed that Bong’s latest will receive a theatrical release in at least three countries, including the United States, the UK, and South Korea. The film will simultaneously be available on Netflix’s own streaming platform in over 190 countries.)

Bong added, “I am sure Ted goes to theaters to watch movies with his family, while the members of the CNC surely have Netflix accounts at home.” Don’t we all?

Netflix will release both films later this year.

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