It is the mother of all battles in the field of entertainment—streaming giant Netflix vs Cannes, world's most prestigious film festival. In the latest development to the tiff that sparked in May last year, Netflix has announced it is pulling out of the festival. Netflix will not send any of its films to Cannes this year, not even for the 'Out of Competition' screening.
Last year, Cannes saw two films from Netflix—Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories in the competition category. Things took a dirty turn when Netflix decided to stream the films on its platform in France at the same time as its theatrical release. This miffed the French filmmakers because the country's rigid rule called for a 36-month waiting period between theatrical release and streaming release. The streaming giant was more eager to release the films on the online platform, refusing to release them in French theatres. This stirred a hornet's nest and Cannes festival director Thierry Frémaux declared that if anyone refused a theatrical release in France, their films would be barred from the competition at Cannes in future. But they were certainly welcome to play in the 'Out of Competition' section. No thank you, said Netflix. With less than two months to go for the prestigious fest, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos announced they would skip the event completely!
Not being able to compete at the Cannes would mean that the films bankrolled by Netflix will lose out on a chance to win the Palme d'Or and the Grand Prix—often considered two of the most prestigious awards in the world of cinema.
This egotistic cacophony has seen an unlikely victim—the last project of a filmmaker who has been dead for over three decades. The Other Side of the Wind, directed by American filmmaker Orson Welles, was slated to make its premiere at an out-of-competition special screening at the Cannes. And now Netflix's decision has pulled the plug on this dream. Originally shot between 1970 and 1976, Welles worked on the film until his death in 1985. The film which features John Huston, Bob Random, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg and Oja Kodar, is a satire on classic Hollywood of the 1970s. While all hope was lost for the unfinished final project of the ace filmmaker, Netflix acquired the global rights for the film and financed its post-production. The film was completed with Bogdanovich as executive producer, and a team comprising Oscar-winning editor Bob Murawski and sound mixer Scot Millan.
Hurt by Netflix's decision to pull out, Welles' daughter Beatrice Welles has pleaded with the streaming company to reconsider the decision. “I was very upset and troubled to read about the conflict with the Cannes Film Festival,” Beatrice Welles reportedly said in an email to Sarandos. “I have to speak out for my father. I saw how the big production companies destroyed his life, his work, and in so doing a little bit of the man I loved so much. I would so hate to see Netflix be yet another one of these companies.” At the same time, the film's team understands that the movie would not have happened, if not for Netflix.
Netflix might not really lose anything if they don't go to Cannes; they have a wide range of other film festivals to screen the films at. But it would have meant a lot for an old-school legend like Welles who was closely associated with Cannes—the Citizen Kane director had won the festival’s top honour in 1952 (before the creation of the Palme d’Or) for his Othello adaptation and had also won the best actor award in 1959 for his performance in Compulsion. He had also headed its competition jury once.
"We hope that they do change the rules,” Sarandos told Variety. “We hope that they modernise. … But we are choosing to be about the future of cinema. If Cannes is choosing to be stuck in the history of cinema, that’s fine.” On the other side, Frémaux argued this is more about a clash between the 'business of distribution' and 'art of cinema'. And while the granddaddy of film festivals has no intention of budging from its conservative rules, young Netflix too plans to stick to its guns.
“Please reconsider and let my father’s work be the movie that bridges the gap between Netflix and Cannes,” Beatrice Welles said.