Controversy has become such an integral part of a movie festival that without it, one begins to feel somewhat unexcited and even listless. And the Cannes Film Festival, all set to unreel its milestone of seven decades from May 17, is no stranger to squabbles and strife. Right from starlets stripping their skimpies to seduce shutterbugs to “banned” movies being smuggled into the French Riviera sometimes in pen-drives hidden in cakes, Cannes has given us all. Last year, Thierry Fremaux, the dashing and debonair chief of the festival - who has been piloting the 12-day world’s most important cinema event for many, many years -- explored the possibility of quitting. But he did not, and a lot of us heaved a sigh of relief. For, he has been a pillar of continuing strength.
This time around, Cannes has declared a war on Netflix -- a mighty entertainment streaming site that is being increasingly patronised by the public and small makers with big dreams. And of all the blazing rows that the festival has been a part of, the Netflix controversy appears to be the most explosive. Cannes is now pitted against the American film and television giant, and this, as some aver, may well pierce the very heart of the contemporary cinema industry.
A statement issued by the festival said it would ban Netflix from sending any of its titles to the main Competition - come 2018 -- if it did not adhere to French law.
Netflix, which is organising one of Cannes’ biggest parties on May 18, is often seen as caring little for the big screen, because organisation’s money-spinner is the small screen. This, clashes with rigid French rules, which in order to safeguard the interest of theatre owners, state that movies released in the cinemas cannot be televised for three years. Netflix disagrees.
In these days of rampant piracy and illegal downloads - not to forget an audience forever in a hurry to watch the latest fare - Netflix may have a point, which Indian producers, distributors and exhibitors have also been mulling over. In Japan, for instance, a film can be shown on television three weeks or so after its theatrical opening.
At Cannes, there are two Netflix movies vying this year for the prestigious Palm dÓr - Okja directed by Bong Joon-ho and The Meyerowitz Stories from Noah Baumbach. Some of the celebrated actors like Tilda Swinton, Emma Thomson and Dustin Hoffman will be seen in these works.
But soon after the Cannes premiere, these two films will be streamed on Netflix. Indians can also watch them or so one is told.
Well, whatever this be, the fact remains that Cannes is serious about not allowing Netflix into the Competition arena again if the company refuses to abide by the French law.
The Cannes statement said: “The Festival de Cannes is aware of the anxiety aroused by the absence of the release in theatres of those movies in France.
“The Festival de Cannes asked Netflix in vain to accept that these two films could reach the audience of French movie theatres and not only its subscribers. The festival regrets that no agreement has been reached.
“Cannes is pleased to welcome Netflix and its investment in film-making, but the festival wants to reiterate its support to the traditional mode of exhibition of cinema in France and in the world.
“As a consequence, Cannes has decided to adapt its rules to this unseen situation until now: any movie that wishes to compete in Competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French cinema theatres.” The new rule will apply from next year.
Despite this, it must be said here that ventures like Netflix have emerged as a boon to the small, struggling filmmaker. Liberal with investment, Netflix does not insist that every work it produces must make money. No regular movie production house will ever agree to this.
And apart from Netflix, houses like Amazon hold out immense promise of a model which gives the freedom for a creative person to play around with his or her ideas, experiment and step into risky terrain. Call it artistic liberty, and rightly so.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for over a quarter century, and will be back on the French Riviera next week.)
Follow @htshowbiz for more