Cannes: Top European Theater Group Demands Theatrical Release for Film Festival Movies

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Two Netflix films played for the first time in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, sparking demand that all films in the festival have a theatrical release.

As the Cannes Film Festival wraps up its final few days, the Netflix issue arose once again when Europe's top theater group released a statement demanding that films playing in festivals all have a theatrical release.

"We believe that leading film festivals around the world should celebrate this social, cultural and economic relevance of cinemas," said the statement from the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC), representing cinema associations and key operators across 36 European territories.

The statement underlined the importance it attaches to ensuring that films selected for competition at leading film festivals receive a theatrical release and supporting the position adopted by French exhibition colleagues during the Cannes International Film Festival.

For the first time ever, two Netflix films — Okja from Snowpiercer director Boon Joon-Ho and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories, starring Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller — played in competition in Cannes. This sparked outcry from some traditionalists who believe that films should have a theatrical release when playing in the world's most famous festival.

Cannes indicated that Netflix would reach an agreement to release both films theatrically, at least in France. But Wednesday, the festival released a statement saying its efforts were “in vain.”

In response, Cannes has introduced a new rule: To qualify for competition, a film must have a theatrical release in France. The requirement will come into effect next year.

Netflix CEO Reed Hastings responded to the move, criticizing the festival. "The establishment closing ranks against us," wrote Hastings in a post on Facebook.

UNIC released the following statement:

"As its 70th edition comes to a close, we would like to express our support for the action of French cinema exhibition colleagues in pressing to ensure that only films intended for theatrical release are in future selected in competition for the Cannes International Film Festival.

The emerging influence of Video on Demand on the wider film value chain is self-evidence, and indeed we continue to argue for the further integration of international VOD operators into established financing systems across Europe. But it will come as no surprise that we also strongly believe in the value brought to a film's performance, across all aspects of its life-cycle, by an exclusive theatrical release.

In a world where fast-paced cultural experiences increasingly happen on mobile devices — and as a result at the same time often occur in solitude — the shared experience of watching a film on the big screen continues to create a sense of identity and community. Cinemas are places where important cultural trends and social changes emerge. We believe that leading film festivals around the world should celebrate this social, cultural and economic relevance of cinemas and call onto them to take this into consideration when designing their future selection policies."