Italian Filmmakers, Exhibitors Slam Venice Biennale as Netflix "Marketing Vehicle"

Roma Still 1 - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

Italian organizations are furious, believing the Golden Lion winner now to be a promotional tool for the American streamer, and not as a film that will be seen in cinemas everywhere.

Not everyone is thrilled by the awards given out in Venice by president Guillermo del Toro and his jury.

Netflix came away Saturday night with its first major European film festival award for a narrative film, with Alfonso Cuaron taking the top prize, the Golden Lion, for his semiautobiographical black and white film Roma. The streamer also picked up the prestigious best screenwriting prize for Joel and Ethan Coen's The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.   

But a harshly worded joint statement seen by The Hollywood Reporter in response to the awards from ANAC (National Association of Film Authors), which represents directors and screenwriters, FICE (Italian Federation of Cinema of Essai) and ACEC (Catholic Cinema Exhibitors Association) said it was "unfair that the Biennale brand is a marketing vehicle for the Netflix platform."

This mirrored the sentiment from Italian exhibitors, who spoke out in July against Venice for including films from Netflix that are set to be released simultaneously day-and-date after the festival. Alessio Cremonini's On My Skin, which opened Horizons in Venice, will be released in theaters in Italy and on Netflix on Sept. 12. 

The new statement argued that, despite having full respect for del Toro's decision and the quality of Roma, ANAC, FICE and ACEC oppose the Biennale promoting a streaming platform "with huge resources" that is also making the position of Italian and European cinemas extremely difficult.

"The Golden Lion, a symbol of the International Film Festival, which has always been financed with public resources is a patrimony of Italian spectators; the film that bears its name should be within everyone's reach, in cinemas, and not exclusively for the subscribers of the American platform," read the statement.

The organizations called on Venice director Alberto Barbera to reexamine his position on including Netflix films for 2019's 76th edition, and also urged Italy's minister of culture to launch an investigation on the fairness of featuring the company in a publicly funded event. 

Although Italy does not have the same kind of distribution regulations as France, which led to a ban on Netflix films in this year's Cannes, there is a growing feeling of resentment toward the streamer as its profile on the awards circuit continues to rise. 

Barbera has been an early supporter of Netflix, showing its first narrative feature Beasts of No Nation in Venice in 2015, and has insisted that they are the future of cinema.

But given the amount of public funds poured into the festival each year, and the lack of any large-scale promotional spend from the streamer on the Lido, it's perhaps understandable that the Italian industry is unhappy with the outcome.