The 71st Cannes Film Festival will be opening on May 8, 2018, and has refused to include movies screened exclusively online. The origins of this heated debate are rooted in the differences in how cinema is financed in France and the United States, according to Nathalie Dupont, associate professor in American civilization at the Université du Littoral Côte d’Opale in France.
France-Amérique: What is your view on the decision made by the Cannes Film Festival?
Nathalie Dupont: It is a hostile reaction from the television networks who provide the main source of financing for French cinema, and who see Netflix as a competitor. Meanwhile, cinema managers are also making a stand against streaming platforms by condemning the “cultural imperialism” of Netflix. However, these same streaming platforms are not as big a competition in the United States, where movie financing falls to studios and independent companies.
Is this controversy a typically French quarrel? Could a U.S. film festival make the same decision?
It is an inherently French debate. Cinema in France is upheld as an art and not an industry, whereas the opposite is true in the United States. This explains the prevailing French distinction between a movie shown at a festival or a cinema and a movie screened online. But on the other side of the Atlantic, U.S. festivals welcome films distributed via streaming. The second season of the HBO series Westworld is set to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival from April 18 through 29 this year. And the same goes for the Netflix movie Come Sunday, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has been available online since April 13.
Will the studios, in the near future, only produce and release mainstream films?
Hollywood studios are more likely to refuse movies with a mid-range budget (between 15 and 40 million dollars) in favor of blockbusters that will enjoy an international release and are supposed to guarantee a return on investment. In an effort to raise the 30 million dollars needed to direct the 2013 film The Butler, Lee Daniels had to approach 41 producers. This is the genre of film that Netflix now produces. Streaming platforms such as HBO (134 million subscribers internationally), Netflix (125 million), Amazon (44 million), and Hulu (17 million) offer movies a showcase they couldn’t obtain in cinemas.
Streaming platforms are increasingly popular, but cinema ticket sales continue to rise. Do you think online movies have no impact on the audience numbers in theaters?
Cinemas maintain their profits thanks to blockbusters to a great extent. But the movies banned from the Cannes Film Festival this year are not aimed at audiences between the ages of 12 and 25 — the main demographic for Hollywood franchises. However, streaming platforms make movies accessible to people who would otherwise not want to or not have a habit of going to the cinema.
What consequences will this debate have on the Cannes Film Festival and the cinema industry in general?
Thierry Frémaux, the director of the Cannes Film Festival, has announced a number of “changes” in the event’s organization. He probably realizes that, if Cannes wants to stay relevant, it can’t keep refusing Netflix movies much longer. As for the directors, screenwriters, and actors, they will accept work from whoever offers the most money, creative freedom, and exposure — and streaming platforms fit this profile. Paramount Pictures refused to risk 140 million dollars in financing a gangster movie. As a result, Martin Scorsese turned to Netflix to produce and distribute his latest work, The Irishman. The traditional system of movies first being released in cinemas before being distributed online or on television will have disappeared in ten years.