Cannes urged to celebrate arts from all platforms

Okja, which stars Tilda Swinton and Seohyun An, will be shown in cinemas in South Korea, the United States and Britain but is available only on Netflix elsewhere in the world.
Okja, which stars Tilda Swinton and Seohyun An, will be shown in cinemas in South Korea, the United States and Britain but is available only on Netflix elsewhere in the world.PHOTO: NETFLIX

SEOUL • A top Netflix executive on Monday urged film festivals to "change" and embrace movies from various platforms, with the streaming giant embroiled in a row with Cannes over distribution.

Netflix has two films in the running for the Palme d'Or top award at Cannes and a policy of releasing its movies online on the same day that they start showing in cinemas.

But French law restricts online streaming to until three years after a movie has been put on general release and Netflix has refused to screen the movies in French cinemas.

The move angered French cinema owners who forced Cannes to effectively slap a ban on future Netflix-backed movies at the world's top film festival.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said Cannes should live up to its core mission of "celebrating arts" regardless of platform.

"Historically, many films get into Cannes' film festival with no distribution at all," he said at a press conference in Seoul to introduce Netflix's South Korean-directed film Okja ahead of its premiere at Cannes.

 

The US$50-million (S$69-million) thriller, starring Tilda Swinton and directed by Bong Joon Ho, will hit cinemas in South Korea, the United States and Britain.

But it will be available only on Netflix elsewhere in the world.

Okja is slated for official competition along with another Netflix- backed movie, The Meyerowitz Stories, starring Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller.

But from next year, Cannes will require every film in competition to be shown in French cinemas afterwards, potentially preventing Netflix movies from competing for prizes. The move angered Netflix chief executive officer Reed Hastings, who slammed what he called the French cinema establishment for "closing ranks" against the US streaming service. He added that film festivals may be forced to adapt as more and more movies become available on platforms beyond traditional cinemas.

Mr Sarandos said: "The audience is changing, therefore distribution changes, and therefore festivals... are likely to change."

He added that many good films in the future "may come to (Cannes) differently than before".

Bong said the dispute may be temporary as the industry adapts to new technology, pointing out that the advent of television did not kill film-making.

"I recently saw a French movie from the 1960s in which a character lamented: 'Cinema is all doomed because of TV.'

"But look at what is happening now," he said. "People these days watch movies in theatres or via Blu-ray, legal online download and Netflix. I think that this is part of a struggle to find the best ways to co-exist eventually."

Netflix is also locked in a similar battle against big US cinema chains.

In 2015, most major multiplex chains refused to screen the long-awaited Netflix-made sequel to martial arts blockbuster Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that first made waves in 2000.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2017, with the headline 'Cannes urged to celebrate arts from all platforms'. Print Edition | Subscribe