Cannes is changing rules after outcry over Netflix streaming

The Netflix company logo at the Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California.
The Netflix company logo at the Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, California. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (NYTimes) - Facing pressure from French theatre owners upset that Netflix films would go straight to streaming, the Cannes Film Festival said on Wednesday (May 10) that it would change its rules to require all future competition films to commit to distribution in French cinemas.

Among the films vying for the Palme d'Or in the festival, which begins on May 17, are Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories and Bong Joon Ho's Okja, both produced by Netflix. Neither is getting a theatrical release in France, and the federation of French cinema owners has protested that the films would not be shown in theatres.

"The Festival de Cannes is aware of the anxiety aroused by the absence of the release in theatres of those films in France," the festival said in a statement Wednesday.

It added: "The festival asked Netflix in vain to accept that these two films could reach the audience of French movie theatres and not only its subscribers. Hence the festival regrets that no agreement has been reached."

Netflix has bristled at a French rule requiring a 36-month delay between a film's release in theatres and on streaming platforms. Okja is being released in United States theatres on June 28. A US theatrical release is also planned for The Meyerowitz Stories. A spokesman for Netflix's European operations said the company had no comment.

The statement from the festival also confirmed that the films would remain in competition.


In a news conference announcing the festival lineup last month, the director of the festival, Thierry Frémaux, had called Cannes a "laboratory" of cinema, one that was open to changes in the landscape.

But French cinema owners had criticised Netflix for not fully participating in France's unique system, in which a percentage of box-office revenues go towards financing new films.

"We're really sorry that Netflix didn't understand the specificity of the French market," Richard Patry, president of the National Federation of French Cinemas, which has a seat on the festival's board. "They stuck with their position that they wouldn't let the two films - which were done by great directors and deserve to be shown in competition at Cannes - be seen by viewers in cinemas."

In the statement, the festival tried to strike a balance between its role as an important film festival and its identity as a French institution.

"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 statement read. It said the new rule would apply starting with next year's festival.

"It's the best solution," Thomas Sotinel, who covers film for Le Monde, said of Wednesday's announcement. "They've bowed to the pressure of the theatre owners without compromising this year's festival."