Cannes: Thierry Fremaux on Not Getting Netflix's Alfonso Cuaron Film 'Roma,' Bringing Back Lars von Trier

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Thierry Fremaux

The artistic director of the film festival also discussed Harvey Weinstein and a sexual harassment hotline with the press Monday, ahead of the official openingTuesday.

Cannes Film Festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux met the press Monday, discussing the Netflix controversy, a new sexual harassment hotline and disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

The festival is understood to have been urging Netflix to allow Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, about his early years in Mexico, to premiere in the festival's competition after Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said that the streaming video giant would not bring any films to Cannes this year.

His team had already selected Cuaron's, he said Monday, adding: "It’s a beautiful and wonderful film, and I’m sad not to be able to welcome Alfonso and his film on his childhood in Mexico."

Cannes reinstated a rule this year that states films must receive French theatrical distribution to be eligible to premiere in the competition lineup. Netflix skips theatrical releases in France and instead immediately streams them on its French service as films released theatrically in the country can’t be made available for streaming platforms until three years after their in-theater debut.

Last year, Netflix brought Bong Joon-ho's Okja and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) to the Croisette in its competition lineup, outraging French exhibitors. 

"I have constantly said we have excellent relations with Netflix," Fremaux also said Monday. "There is a disagreement that is regulatory or legal disagreement.... OK, but we can talk about that together." He added: "Last year was episode one, this year is episode two, and next year is episode 3. Days ago in Lille a declaration was made to say 'We should have been more respectful, diplomatic.' That’s what I also believe."

He was referring to a comment from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings who said the company has made "mistakes" in its interactions with Cannes. "We love the film festival, and we still have buyers going," he said. "The festival is very sincere in trying to find a model that works for them and works for us," he added. "I'm sure over time we'll definitely [go back]."

Fremaux was also asked about bringing back Lars von Trier with his film The House That Jack Built seven years after he was banned from the festival. "Lars is out of competition this year, and what is important...is to see him back here in Cannes," he said. "Terry Gilliam as well. Filmmakers from around the world should feel like Cannes is their home. Cannes doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to all of us. It protects artists."

Von Trier in 2011 in Cannes responded to an innocuous question about his German roots during a press conference for his film Melancholia, stumbling into controversy. “For a long time I thought I was a Jew and I was happy to be a Jew,” he began, “But then I found out I was actually a Nazi. My family were German. And that also gave me some pleasure. What can I say? I understand Hitler…I sympathize with him a bit.”

It was all downhill from there. “I don’t mean I’m in favor of World War II and I’m not against Jews,” he continued, “in fact I’m very much in favor of them.... Well, Israel is a pain in the ass but.…”

As Melancholia stars Kirsten Dunst and Charlotte Gainsbourg, sitting on either side of von Trier, stared at him agog, the director concluded: “Now how can I get out of this sentence? OK. I’m a Nazi.” Hours after the gala premiere of Melancholia, Cannes declared von Trier persona non grata. 

Discussing von Trier, Fremaux said: "It is my duty to restate that Lars von Trier was declared a ‘persona non grata’ because he joked about subjects that should not be the subject of a joke, but he is not anti-Semitic, he is not anti-Jewish, he is not a Nazi. He was punished, and [festival president] Pierre Lescure along with the board decide that the punishment had lasted long enough and it was time to bring him back as an artist." 

Addressing the sexual harassment hotline that the festival is launching this year, the Cannes festival boss said: "We have a team behind the phone line and an email starting tomorrow to take down any information about harassment." 

The impromptu press briefing took place ahead of the official opening of the festival's 71st edition Tuesday.