Cannes vs. Netflix

While the change in the way films are being watched is unstoppable, a supportive policy is merited whereby streaming platforms are also seen as allies.

War has broken out between the Cannes Film Festival, a French cultural industry icon, and Netflix, the American online movie platform that has 100 million customers worldwide. In its 70th anniversary edition, the Cannes Festival contest has announced a change in the rules so that, starting in 2018, films that do not premiere in French cinemas cannot compete for the Palme d’Or. Hollywood is imposing something similar, whereby candidates for an Oscar for best picture must exhibit for at least seven days in a row, three times a day, in Los Angeles cinemas. It is in response to Netflix, which after competing in Berlin and Venice — where it was permitted to do so — arrived in Cannes with two original feature films that will not exhibit in France. President of the Jury Pedro Almodóvar closed ranks with the festival, stating, “Netflix is a new platform which offers paid-for content, which in principle is good and rewarding. However, this new type of service cannot attempt to replace existing ones. For me, it is an enormous paradox to award a Palme d’Or or any other prize for a film that cannot be viewed on the big screen.”

Some specialists believe that cinema is about quality, focusing on the director’s originality as opposed to the uniformity that comes with being part of a multinational which produces as well as exhibits. Furthermore, experiencing both silence and concentration in front of the big screen is important. However, this experience is now declining when up against other ways of watching. Despite paying for the service, watching films on a computer, TV or mobile is increasingly preferable for many viewers.

The debate, however, is broader than this and is associated with the defense of a cultural identity and a changing industry. The election of a president, Emmanuel Macron, who varnishes his speeches with quotations from intellectuals, is a paradigm of a France which has placed its culture and education above politics. Sarkozy was the leader of the fight against piracy. And Hollande secured funding for education and culture amid huge spending cuts. Meanwhile, in Spain, the government raised its tax on cultural activities and was incapable of protecting its industry from piracy. The changes in cultural consumption are unstoppable, and streaming platforms can only be welcome. However, it is important that the government supports a policy in which Netflix, like other large companies, can and should also be seen as an ally.

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