Hollywood heavyweights have effectively told streaming giant Netflix ‘you can’t sit with us’ by blocking it from competing at film festivals and claiming it is undeserving of film-focused awards.
On March 26, the head of the Cannes Film Festival said while Netflix and other streaming companies could show their films, they would not be eligible for a revered Palme D’Or award.
The ban comes after last year’s controversial inclusion of two Netflix films on the condition they would be released in cinemas. They were not.
“Last year, when we selected these two films, I thought I could convince Netflix to release them in cinemas. I was presumptuous, they refused,” Cannes artistic director Theirry Fremaux told The Hollywood Reporter.
“The Netflix people loved the red carpet and would like to be present with other films. But they understand that the intransigence of their own model is now the opposite of ours,” he added.
“The history of cinema and the history of the internet are two different things.”
Fremaux’s comments were not dissimilar to comments director Steven Spielberg made in a March 20 interview, in which he argued Netflix movies should not be eligible for Academy Awards.
“Once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie,” he told ITV News.
“You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theatres for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.
Spielberg complained filmmakers will be less motivated to fight for funding or compete at film festivals if they can get their movies made on streaming video on demand services.
“A lot of studios would rather just make branded, tentpole, guaranteed box office hits from their inventory of successful movies than take chances on smaller films and those smaller films are now going to Amazon, Hulu and Netflix,” Spielberg said.
“Fewer and fewer filmmakers are going to struggle to raise money or compete in Sundance and more of them are going to let the SVOD businesses finance their films with the promise of a one-week theatrical window to qualify them for awards.
“Television today is greater today than it’s ever been. But it poses a clear and present danger to filmgoers.”
Those on social media, however, were in favour of more competition and disruption, slamming Spielberg and Cannes for being “elitist” and acting out of fear.
Not saying Netflix is perfect. (They really need to get better at promoting their original movies.) But nobody is going to tell me they don't make real movies. Not Cannes, not Spielberg, not my cat.
— Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg) March 25, 2018
— Marligot Forlinor (@MedicinalArbys) March 22, 2018
I'm not sure I agree with Steven Spielberg. If "Mudbound", a Netflix film had not qualified for Oscar consideration, Rachel Morrison would not have made history this year. Expanding the playing field allows for a more diverse group of nominees
— Demassie Hill (@demassie2) March 24, 2018
And Spielberg is not alone in his disdain. Last year, director Christopher Nolan also took aim at Netflix, calling its release policy “mindless”.
“Netflix has a bizarre aversion to supporting theatrical films,” Nolan told IndieWire in July 2017.
“I think the investment that Netflix is putting into interesting filmmakers and interesting projects would be more admirable if it weren’t being used as some kind of bizarre leverage against shutting down theatres. It’s so pointless. I don’t really get it.”
The discussion comes after Netflix original film Mudbound garnered nominations at this year’s Oscars for Best Cinematography, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress.
Increasingly, Netflix is aiming for both a theatrical and streaming release, as was the case with its critically acclaimed new release, Annihilation, starring Natalie Portman.
When you consider a single movie ticket costs around $20 per person in Australia, while a monthly Netflix subscription can cost as little as $9.99, it’s easy to see why film industry stalwarts are getting antsy.
But for young filmmakers, Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are the difference between their films being forgotten and their films finding a large captive audience willing to try new things.
Mudbound‘s director Dee Rees said when accepting an Independent Spirit Award earlier this year: “Cinema lies not in a strip of celluloid, a length of magnetic tape … a smartphone screen, a television screen, or a 52-foot high IMAX screen.
“Cinema lies in absorbing, electrifying performances by committed actors that make audiences feel, think, observe themselves and the world around them in a more expansive way.
“I know that as independent filmmakers … we of all makers are far, far beyond any identity tokenism or snobbery of form in both production or distribution.
“Mudbound is cinema, and we are grateful for this recognition. Because nothing diminishes nor enhances the value of the work except the work itself.”