Berlin: Anti-Netflix Protests Hit Fest Premiere of Isabel Coixet's 'Elisa & Marcela'

John Macdougall/AFP/Getty Images
Anti-Netflix protestors at the Berlin premiere of 'Elisa & Marcela'

German theater owners have accused the Berlin Film Festival of “downgrading cinema culture” by allowing a movie backed by a streaming service to screen in competition.

A small group of anti-Netflix protestors occupied the Berlin International Film Festival's red carpet Wednesday night for the world premiere of Elisa & Marcela, the Netflix-backed drama from Spanish director Isabel Coixet (The Bookshop).

Holding signs reading “No Netflix films in Berlinale competition” and “Kino statt Stream Festival” ("Cinema, not a streaming festival"), the group — around a half-dozen or so people — expressed their disapproval of the Berlinale's decision to include Coixet‘s film in official competition.

The protestors were peaceful, good-humored and tolerated by festival security and even Berlin jury president Juliette Binoche, who posed for cameras on the red carpet with a group of demonstrators blocking the entrance to the Berlinale Palast theater just a few feet away.

The red carpet demonstration follows an official complaint from an association of German independent exhibitors, who claimed Netflix was using big film festivals and their awards “as a marketing platform and diminishing the position of cinema as a place of culture.” The Berlin protests echo similar anti-Netflix campaigns in France — where exhibitors successfully got the Cannes Film Festival to ban the streamer's films from official competition — and Italy, where the Venice Film Festival ignored exhibitors' complaints and accepted Alfonso Cuaron's Roma, kicking off the movie's awards-season run.

The Berlin fest has defended its decision to screen Elisa & Marcela, saying it meets its criteria of being “intended for the big screen,” whether or not it actually ends up in theaters. Netflix is planning to do some form of theatrical release for Elisa & Marcela in Spain, though it has not said if it will do so in any other territories.

Outgoing Berlin festival director Dieter Kosslick, who will step down after this year's event after 18 years at the helm, has suggested all the big European festivals — including Berlin, Cannes and Venice — should sit down and find a common position in regards to Netflix. Sources near the Cannes festival — the most anti-Netflix of the big three European fests — report that France may offer a compromise, allowing Netflix films to screen but requiring a theatrical release in France if the movie wins the top prize, the Palme d'Or. 

Cannes, however, is eating crow after having rejected Cuaron's Roma, only to watch it go on to become this year's Oscar frontrunner with 10 nominations, including best picture. Coixet's Elisa & Marcela bears some superficial resemblance to Roma — being a black-and-white, female-focused, Spanish language period drama — but judging by the tepid critical response to the movie in Berlin, it is unlikely to inspire the same sort of exhibitor envy.