Cannes Programmer Urges French Exhibitors to Talk to Netflix

Opening Ceremony during the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival - Getty - H 2019
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"It's about sitting down and not building walls," Directors' Fortnight programmer Paolo Moretti told a Toronto Film Festival panel as he called for dialogue and cooperation.

Cannes Directors' Fortnight programmer Paolo Moretti on Friday told a Toronto Film Festival panel that French exhibitors and distributors need to find common ground through dialogue and cooperation with Netflix and other emerging streaming players, rather than erect barriers to change.

Despite Cannes' continued cold shoulder to Netflix and other digital platforms, Moretti spoke from the perspective of being a French theater operator and programming one of global cinema's most prestigious film competitions. "There's a path that both parties should do to find a solution that doesn't harm filmmakers and cinema in general.... It's about sitting down and not building walls for me," he told a TIFF industry panel of major film festival execs.

Cannes and Netflix earlier this year failed for the second year running to reach a compromise, meaning Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, the Meryl Streep starrer The Laundromat and Noah Baumbach’s The King went elsewhere on the international festival circuit.

Moretti conceded that France insisting on protecting its exhibition sector against an encroaching Netflix and other streamers, while its domestic film industry thrives, was controversial. "It's true France has a complex and effective public system in order to defend diversity," he said.

And Moretti added he understood the attitude of domestic cinema operators toward the American streaming giant. "Netflix is seen as a menace," he pointedly explained.

But Moretti as the Cannes Directors' Fortnight programmer said his main focus is standing alongside film directors. "For me, the thing is to just focus on cinema rather than on support, on the technical way to see it," he argued.

Toronto Film Festival artistic director and co-head Cameron Bailey was equally optimistic about the synergies possible between festivals, filmmakers and streamers. Toronto opened last year with Netflix's Outlaw King.

This year, Toronto awarded the opening slot to Daniel Roher's Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band documentary set to be streamed in Canada by the local Crave platform after premiering here. "It's one ecosystem. There's just new fish in the water," Bailey argued.

"Both Netflix and Amazon have been really influential in getting films to wide audiences, films coming from India — from a filmmaker like Anurag Kashyap — are suddenly being seen in 190 countries," he added.

The Toronto industry panel discussed how major film festivals are having an impact on an evolving film business where major exhibitors and streaming players are at loggerheads, and festival programmers still aim at artistic excellence and elevating filmmakers.

Sundance director of programming Kim Yutani tipped her hat to Netflix for innovation. "They're pioneering things," she said, as Sundance's role as a discovery festival is in part to "find artists that eventually will end up in the arms of Netflix and Amazon to get to wider audiences."

The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept. 15.