Even by its normally prestigious standards, this was a pretty exciting year for the Cannes Film Festival. Surprise selections, an atypically fun jury, and countless debates about Netflix and the future of film exhibition all combined to make headlines all around the world. Oh, and there were also a handful of the most highly anticipated films of 2017 receiving serious recognition from the festival. You know, no big deal.
It’s not a Cannes Film Festival without a little bit of controversy. This year, Netflix has the hot potato, as the festival has practically torn itself in twain on the matter of the online streaming platform — to purists, they’re the barbarians at the multiplex gates, but to those in support, they’re deep-pocketed benefactors for such directors as Korea’s Bong Joon Ho. And after his new film Okja got nearly pulled from competition, allowed back in, unofficially rejected by Jury President Pedro Almodovar, and then booed following technical difficulties at the screening, Bong wanted to clear the air around Netflix.
Over the past few days, the Netflix-Cannes Film Festival debate has been reaching new heights. This morning news arrived that the streaming platform/studio has purchased the rights to Bubbles, which is not a movie about the delightful little spheres of soap fill with air, but about Michael Jackson's pet chimp.
Across the Atlantic, Will Smith and Pedro Almodovar may be jousting over Netflix’s place in the Cannes Film Festival – should a movie produced by the streaming empire be worthy of competing for the French festival’s coveted awards? Or should the Palme D’or only be granted to films with exclusive releases on the big screen? Whatever opinion you hold, Bong Joon-ho’s latest entry, Okja, is set to make its world premiere on the Croisette, and big screen or small, it looks pretty awesome.
The jury at this year’s Cannes film festival features a diverse group of acclaimed filmmakers and actors, including Park Chan-wook, Jessica Chastain, Pedro Almodóvar and Will Smith — yes, as in the artist formerly known as the Fresh Prince. It’s only the second day of the festival, but there’s already a debate between two of this year’s jurors regarding Netflix, which caused a bit of controversy at Cannes before the festival even began.
Those of you with an interest in the changing face of theatrical exhibition and film festival bylaws (there are dozens of us!) may have caught wind of some recent meshugas unfolding in France. This year’s main Competition slate at the Cannes Film Festival included two films from online-streaming giant Netflix, Bong Joon Ho’s creature feature Okja and Noah Baumbach’s singlehanded resurrection of Adam Sandler The Meyerowitz Stories. But there‘s been some consternation about opening the gates of Cannes to films that may never see release in France outside of the Internet. Is a movie that doesn’t play in a movie theater a movie at all?
With two high-profile films premiering at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Netflix is hard at work proving to filmmakers and financiers alike that it deserves to be taken seriously as both a commercial and artistic distribution platform. And while fans might be excited to watch Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja or Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories from the comfort of their own home, Netflix’s success may have run afoul of French law, putting its relationship with both the film festival and the entire French marketplace in a precarious position.