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Hollywood insiders are split on whether Netflix's war with Cannes will hurt its business

Business Insider | Apr 16, 2018, 06.56PM IST

Ted Sarandos Cannes AP

AP

Netflix's Ted Sarandos (R) with the cast of "The Meyerowitz Stories," which screened in competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival before streaming on Netflix.

  • Netflix has pulled its titles from playing at this year's Cannes Film Festival following a rule change.
  • The industry has conflicting thoughts on this latest bold move from the streaming giant.


Since Netflix began releasing its own movies, it's disrupted the industry by going against decades-old exclusivity agreements with exhibitors. It's also used film festivals as a platform for its titles, putting them on the site soon after they screen, and not giving them a run in theaters before streaming.

The latter is what got the exhibitor community in France angry last year when the renowned Cannes Film Festival showed two Netflix films in competition. It led to a rule change going into this year that no movie could be shown in competition if it had no plans for a theatrical release in France.

Last week, Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos fired back, announcing that the company would not screen any of its titles at this year's Cannes Film Festival due to the rule change. This has sparked directors, producers, and even the Cannes head programmer Thierry Fremaux to ask Netflix to reconsider.

Some in the industry are even wondering if the streaming giant has finally crossed the line.

"Fundamentally, I believe Netflix does not see value in the existing domestic film community infrastructure to audiences, but they seem to want the credibility that this infrastructure lends to their prestige projects without having to fully participate in the community," a veteran film festival director told Business Insider. "This is clear in the current Cannes dispute."

And if it's perceived Netflix has a lack of interest in the film community, will this make filmmakers think twice about working with them?

The Olther Side of the Wind Netflix

Netflix

"The Other Side of the Wind."

Producer Filip Jan Rymsza, who had been toiling for years to get Orson Welles final movie "The Other Side of the Wind" to audiences, admitted that if it weren't for Netflix that dream would never have become a reality (it will be available on the site later this year). But the movie's coming-out party was to be this year's Cannes (where Welles was beloved), and with the ban he said that the appreciation he had for Netflix's deep pockets didn't "lessen my disappointment and heartbreak."

And there are plenty of other filmmakers who have said that if it weren't for Netflix, their movies would not have been made - from Duncan Jones ("Mute") to Martin Scorsese (his upcoming "The Irishman").

But it's uncertain if the latest move by Netflix will lose them future talent.

"In some sense it becomes a question of ego versus practicality," one producer told Business Insider. "The money will still be there aside from the prestige."

"I think it's overblown, I don't think it'll have a huge effect on filmmakers," another industry insider said. "It would really affect business if it were a Sundance ban."

This brings the question: Why does Netflix need any film festivals? It might be that despite the company's constant boasting about trailblazing a new path for moviegoers and filmmakers, Netflix still wants to be respected by the industry. And part of the reason for that could be because film festival prestige can please shareholders.

"The Monday after 'Icarus' won the Oscar, Netflix's stock popped," a festival veteran noted. "So the value of participating in the film community and playing by community rules might just make economic sense for them."

As Cannes is mostly made up of established filmmakers who are at their peak, or are legends in business, for filmmakers just getting their break Netflix is a godsend and all of this Cannes ban talk is just noise.

Ryan Koo, whose debut feature "Amateur" is a Netflix original that recently went live on the site, believes the company is giving opportunities to filmmakers like himself that were never possible before. This means not just financing his work, but also making it available to millions worldwide instantly.

"For film to survive and thrive, we need to be more inclusive and expand the definition of what a movie is, not restrict it and be more precious by saying 'only these films are eligible for awards or competition,'" Koo told Business Insider. "Everyone in the industry knows that there is no difference in the way a theatrical film is made versus a streaming one. In many cases, during production, you don't even know who's going to pick it up and how it's going to come out. You're simply making a movie. And everyone in the real world - actual human beings who enjoy watching movies - don't care about any of this. A movie is a movie is a movie."

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