Rome Film Festival Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Netflix

Illustration-Rome-H 2018
THR Staff

Despite the protests of local exhibitors upset over Alfonso Cuaron's top prize win at Venice for his film 'Roma,' fest organizers in Rome are embracing the disruption.

The Rome Film Festival once again is carving out a high-profile niche on the crowded fall circuit. Its 13th edition boasts public "Close Encounter" conversations with A-listers Cate Blanchett and Martin Scorsese as well as gala events like the Oct. 24 world premiere of The Girl in the Spider's Web, the fest opener Bad Times at the El Royale and screenings of such awards hopefuls as Barry Jenkins' If Beale Street Could Talk.

But behind the glamour, there are bigger issues at play. Italy is at a crossroads with Netflix after local exhibitors protested the decision to award Alfonso Cuaron's Roma from the streamer the top prize at this summer's Venice Film Festival. Cinema owners are up in arms that Italy's premiere festival would give so much exposure to a movie that will primarily be seen on the small screen.

But Rome, like Venice, is having none of this Netflix bashing.

"Netflix is a disrupter. It's like being against the car if you have a horse," says Rome festival director Antonio Monda. "I think the theater owners should deal and cope with that."

This issue is complicated by the fact that Italian film festivals are partially funded by public money, meaning taxpayers are contributing to a Netflix promotional vehicle. It doesn't help that the streamer has no full-time staffers in the country.

While exhibitors battle lackluster ticket sales and online piracy, they see Netflix as reaping all the benefits of Italy's festival circuit but giving nothing back. So far, their protests have not led to major concessions akin to those in France, where Cannes bowed to local industry pressure and banned Netflix fare from competition. But concessions are coming, argues Francesco Rutelli, president of ANICA, Italy's national association for the audiovisual industry.

"I think Netflix and other companies' arrival is inevitable, and how to regulate that is inevitable," he says.

Indeed, Italy, together with the rest of the European Union, is finalizing new quotas for streaming companies that would force Netflix to invest in local content. The legislation, which would require streamers to dedicate at least 30 percent of their total online catalog in each region to European productions, is expected to pass this year.

The Rome fest will provide a backdrop for larger industry discussions on the future of Netflix in Italy. Cannes head Thierry Fremeaux is bringing his side of the debate to Rome, participating in a discussion with Monda on Oct. 23. And Netflix executives will attend MIA, Rome's film market, to scout for content and co-production deals.

MIA director Lucia Milazzotto says the event will be a central meeting point for industry leaders to work toward finding a Netflix solution. "Everyone needs to understand the opportunities that arise from disruptive changes," she says, "and how these changes will affect the players in the value chain."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.