Cannes: Pedro Almodovar, Will Smith Offer Contrasting Views on Netflix Controversy

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Cannes jury

"I personally don’t perceive the Palme d’Or [should be] given to a film that is then not seen on the big screen," said jury head Almodovar.

The Cannes competition jury — led by Pedro Almodovar — assembled in front of the press Wednesday before heading off for a week of screenings in darkened rooms, and Netflix's inclusion in the official selection was a hot topic of debate. 

This year's 70th edition of the Cannes festival is a watershed moment for Netflix, which has two titles in the competition lineup (Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja and The Meyerowitz Stories from Noah Baumbach). Cinema purists have said this sets a dangerous precedent since the films don't get a theatrical release.

Festival organizers last week unveiled a new requirement for competition films to have traditional theatrical distribution in French theaters after the French Cinema Federation (FNCF) objected to the inclusion of two Netflix films in Cannes' official selection. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings hit back with a post on Facebook, saying: "The establishment [is] closing ranks against us."

During Wednesday's jury press conference, Almodovar read a prepared statement addressing the Netflix controversy at the festival. 

"Digital platforms are a new way of offering words and images, which in itself are enriching. But these platforms should not take the place of existing forms like the movie theaters," he said. "They should under no circumstances change the offer for spectators. The only solution I think is that the new platforms accept and obey the existing rules that are already adopted and respected by the existing networks." 

He added: "I personally don’t perceive the Palme d’Or [should be] given to a film that is then not seen on the big screen. All this doesn’t mean that I am not open or celebrate new technologies and opportunities, but [as long as] I'm alive I’ll be fighting for the capacity of hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer."

Will Smith, who has the upcoming movie Bright with the streaming giant, offered a different take: "I have a 16-year- old and an 18-year-old and a 24-year-old at home. They go to the movies twice a week, and they watch Netflix. There’s very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix."

He added: "In my home, Netflix has had absolutely no effect on what they go to the movie theater to watch, go to the cinema to be humbled by certain images and stay home for others — no cross. In my home Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit — [they] watch films they otherwise wouldn’t have seen. It has broadened my children’s global cinematic comprehension."

Jessica Chastain and Paolo Sorrentino are also on the jury, alongside German director Maren Ade (Toni Erdmann), South Korean helmer Park Chan-wook (The Handmaiden), Chinese star Fan Bingbing (Iron Man 3), French actress Agnes Jaoui (The Taste of Others) and Oscar-winning composer Gabriel Yared (The English Patient). 

The awards for the 70th festival will be handed out on the closing night of the festival, May 28.

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