As the Cannes Film Festival opens this evening, a long-simmering battle between the lauded annual fest’s home country and streaming giant Netflix continues to rage. At the center of it? A disagreement between France and Netflix as to how the streaming outfit will distribute its films — like Cannes premieres “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories” — in a country with strict rules regarding such matters.
As the New York Times notes in a revealing new article, the real meat of the matter is “what’s known as the French cultural exception, a law that requires a percentage of all box office, DVD, video on demand, television and streaming revenues to be pooled to finance homegrown films and help finance foreign films. The law also mandates a 36-month delay between theatrical release and streaming date.”
Earlier this year, controversy swirled after Cannes announced that the festival’s Official Selection would play home to the two Netflix offerings, forcing the festival to issue an official statement on the matter.
“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.”
Despite a seemingly fixed stance on this year’s Netflix films, Cannes also used the statement to issue a new regulation that would require future Competition entries to receive a theatrical release in France.
“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,” the statement continued. “This new measure will apply from the 2018 edition of the Festival International du Film de Cannes onwards.”
As The Times notes, “The move was widely considered a slap in the face to Netflix. But in France, the new rule was seen as a badge of honor, protecting that country’s cinema culture from streaming services.”
But that’s still not enough for some.
“They are the perfect representation of American cultural imperialism,” Christophe Tardieu, director of the National Cinema Center, known as the CNC, a state entity that coordinates public financing of films, told The Times.
He added, “I deplore Netflix’s attitude in this affair, which showed total intransigence and refusing to understand and accept how the French cultural exception works.”
Netflix has made it clear they’re not interested in abiding by the French system, and their films do not meet the qualifications for “less mainstream work” that would have made limited releases for its films possible. Instead, the Netflix features — like “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories” — still fall under the normal 36-month-wait rule. As the Times notes, it’s part of “a strict time frame in which a film moves from theaters to video-on-demand after four months, to cable television after 10 months, to free television after 22 months and finally to a streaming service.”
As the Times reminds, Amazon, the other heavy-hitting streaming outfit that has entered the theatrical fray, makes a point of releasing its films in theaters. Their big Cannes offering, Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck,” will receive a theatrical release in France.