Cannes Film Festival Changes Rules to Keep Future Netflix Films Out of Competition

When the Cannes Film Festival competition line-up was announced last month, there was much chatter and consternation about the inclusion of Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) – not because of any presumptive quality issues with the films themselves (they’re the new features from Bong Joon-Ho and Noah Baumbach, respectively), but because they were set for distribution (which is to say, release date streaming) by Netflix. The esteemed French fest hadn’t previously screened films in competition from the streaming giant, and now we’re seeing why.

Variety reports the festival’s board met yesterday to discuss the possibility of pulling both films from the competition, due to objections by the French exhibitors association that the films would not screen in cinemas there. After that meeting, the Cannes board elected to let Okja and Meyerowitz remain, but announced that all future competition titles will have to have to already have French theatrical distribution sewn up.

The controversy speaks to the existential crisis gripping exhibitors around the world, as streaming services like Netflix and Amazon are using their deep pockets to buy and produce films by the bushel, while theater owners cling desperately to outdated rules about the “windows” between theatrical and home release. But the briar patch is even thornier in France, where strict regulations decree a minimum of three years between a film’s wide theatrical release and its SVOD availability. Netflix is attempting to work out an arrangement for a week-long limited theatrical release for the two films, but that deal hasn’t been sealed – and wouldn’t constitute a long-term solution.

Nonetheless, festival rules have been adjusted, and “any film that wishes to compete in competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theaters. This new measure will apply from the 2018 edition of the Festival International du Film de Cannes onwards.”