Cannes: Amazon Leads Lineup With 5 Titles, Ending Fest's No SVOD Rule

Cafe Society
Gavier Productions Inc.

The online giant has U.S. rights to Woody Allen's opening-night entry 'Cafe Society,' Nicolas Winding Refn's 'The Neon Demon,' Jim Jarmusch's 'Paterson' and 'Gimme Danger' and Park Chan-wook 'The Handmaiden.'

So much for Cannes being the last holdout against the scourge of online viewing.

The world's biggest, most prestigious film festival on Thursday announced the official lineup for its 69th edition, and five — count 'em, five — titles come courtesy of Amazon.

Woody Allen's Cafe Society, which kicks off the fest on May 11, will be released by Amazon in the U.S., as will three films vying for this year's Palme d'Or: Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, Jim Jarmusch's Paterson and The Handmaiden from Korean genre-film master Park Chan-wook. Jarmusch's Iggy Pop music documentary Gimme Danger also will receive a Midnight Screening slot and an Amazon release.

The trend is nothing new. Amazon and Netflix have been pumping money into film production over the past few years and have been snatching up indie films at a record pace. Between them, the two SVOD giants acquired a dozen films at Sundance this year, with Amazon dropping $10 million for Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea and Netflix laying out $7 million for Paul Rudd's road trip movie The Fundamentals of Caring.

Other big festivals have also embraced the streamers. Venice put Cary Joji Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation, a Netflix original starring Idris Elba, in competition last year, and Berlin gave Spike Lee's experimental Chi-Raq, made for Amazon, an out-of-competition slot at this year's festival.

But Cannes, as so often, remained apart, refusing to screen movies made for a screen other than one in the cinema.

Until now.

Aside from Amazon's backing, the five films are classic Cannes titles. If Allen has a movie ready for Cannes, the festival takes it (often — as with Midnight in Paris in 2011 and Hollywood Ending in 2002 — as the opening-night film). Refn's last two movies, Only God Forgives and Drive, were Cannes competition films (the latter winning best director honors). And Jarmusch won the grand jury prize in 2005 for Broken Flowers, as did Park for Oldboy in 2003. As these auteurs move online, drawn by more lucrative deals, and the promise of creative freedom, the fests have followed.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux was quick to point out that while “Amazon bought the rights of these films, they will be released in theaters first.” And he proclaimed that “Amazon and the people in charge of cinema in Amazon, the people who bought Woody Allen and Nicholas Winding Refn, they are movie buffs.”

Indeed, Ted Hope, who took over original film production at Amazon Studios last year, has an unimpeachable indie film CV that includes producing Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, Todd Solondz's Happiness and Alejandro G. Inarritu's 21 Grams.

“It’s good to have a new partner for financing movies and [who is willing] to pay a lot of money that will buy auteur films. I’m happy,” said Fremaux.

With five titles in Cannes this year, Amazon and Hope should be smiling, too. It's taken a while, but Europe's most austere film festival has finally joined the digital revolution.

Correction: An earlier version of this story neglected to mention Jim Jarmusch's Gimme Danger, another Amazon Studios title. The Hollywood Reporter regrets the error.