In what sounds like the reaction of a spoilt child when told by its parents that it can only have one slice of birthday cake and not the whole thing, Netflix is threatening to pull five of its movies from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Cannes has decided that only movies that receive a theatrical release in France will be eligible for entry to the prestigious Official Competition. The five movies are: Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma, Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold the Dark, Paul Greengrass’s Norway, and two Orson Welles related features, Morgan Neville’s documentary, They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead, and The Other Side of the Wind, Welles’s own movie that has recently been completed after being believed lost.
Cannes have apparently changed the rules in relation to the Official Competition, and it’s this that Netflix are protesting against. While many see it as a snub by the Old Guard – Cannes is seventy-one this year – against the new kids on the block, this is actually a clash of “business models”. Cannes believes it’s important that movies be seen on a big screen, in cinemas, as part of a shared cultural experience. The festival also highlights the range and diversity of cinema from around the world, and despite its elitist standing, always seeks to present what would be regarded as more mainstream movies throughout its yearly run. Already confirmed this year is the latest Star Wars offshoot, Solo, and when the full line up is revealed on 12 April, there’s little doubt that other more mainstream movies will be present.
Netflix, however, have no interest in releasing its movies in cinemas. It’s not their distribution model, and they’re just as inflexible in their approach as Cannes is. Some people are saying that Netflix and their streaming services are the future of movies, that home viewing, whether on sixty-inch plus TV screens, or computer monitors, or tablets, will see an end to theatrical distribution. Perhaps. But if television, once heralded as the inevitable cause of the demise of movie-going, hasn’t done the job after all this time, then Netflix isn’t going to make a difference either. And while it’s true that people want a wider choice of access based on their own terms and needs, the shared experience of a visit to the cinema is still the way to see a movie. As the makers of Godzilla (1998) put it, Size Does Matter.
But should this divide between Cannes and Netflix be considered as anything more than a falling out amongst uneasy friends? Possibly, but in the end it’s unlikely to affect the potential success or failure of any of the movies being withheld, and Cannes and Netflix will continue to prosper in their own unique ways. And as long as that continues, then we, the audience, will continue to be well served by both organisations.