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Netflix pulls out of Cannes Film Festival following competition ban

Netflix has decided to exit France’s Cannes Film Festival entirely over festival leadership’s decision to ban films from competing unless they secure a local theatrical release, according to a report from Variety. The report includes an interview with Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, who says the decision was made only after escalating tensions between the streaming service and Cannes artistic director Thierry Frémaux. Netflix, though it was banned from competition, was told it could still screen its films at Cannes if it liked. The company is now no longer attending in any official capacity.

“We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker,” Sarandos tells Variety. “There’s a risk in us going in this way and having our films and filmmakers treated disrespectfully at the festival. They’ve set the tone. I don’t think it would be good for us to be there.”

Cannes first announced the Netflix ban last month, saying that films that want to compete for the prestigious Palme d’Or award must have a French theatrical release to be eligible. The rule change, actually announced last year, only went into effect for this year’s Cannes, taking place in May. And the rule change was only announced after French theater owners, filmmakers, and labor unions vehemently protested the inclusion of Netflix films Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories last year, the first time Netflix competed at Cannes. The company had day-and-date releases for both films, meaning they showed in theaters in some markets on the same day they went live on its streaming service. But Netflix did not show either film in any French theaters.

At the time, Frémaux and Netflix tried to negotiate a compromise in which Netflix would secure a last-minute, one-week theatrical release in France to compete. But the company couldn’t get around French media regulations that require a film be kept off streaming services for up to 36 months after a theatrical launch. Frémaux still let Netflix compete; the company’s films did not win any awards, and the company was booed by the crowd at the Okja premiere. But the immense backlash led Cannes to institute the rule change and to follow through with the Netflix ban last month.

“Last year, when we selected these two films, I thought I could convince Netflix to release them in cinemas. I was presumptuous, they refused,” Frémaux told The Hollywood Reporter at the time. “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.” Frémaux, as do many members of the French film industry, sees streaming services not just as existential threats to the movie-making and theatrical businesses, but as threats to the very nature of cinema as art that should be collectively experienced in a theater.

“We hope that they do change the rules. We hope that they modernize. But we will continue to support all films and all filmmakers. We encourage Cannes to rejoin the world cinema community and welcome them back,” Sarandos tells Variety. “Thierry had said in his comments when he announced his change that the history of the Internet and the history of Cannes are two different things. Of course they are two different things. But we are choosing to be about the future of cinema. If Cannes is choosing to be stuck in the history of cinema, that’s fine.”

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