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Digital Symbols And Feeling Important

Everything about the Cannes Film Festival carries symbolic weight. Juries are made up of really important people. Films allowed for screening are obviously very important. Those nominated for top honors are super important. Palme d’Ore winners are beyond important, exalted even. Those other film awards - Oscars, BAFTAs - are, well, nice.

Homer and MargeJust attending the Cannes Film Festival is important. It’s the place to see and be seen. Acclaimed actors, directors and producers - referred to as delegates - make the scene. There are deals to be made and PR to be shopped.

The people from Netflix are in Cannes, this year as producer/distributor of two films selected for screening. Action-adventure Okla from South Korean director Boon Joon-ho was screened last Friday (May 19). The Meyerowitz Stories is an American comedy with an all-star cast. It screens Monday night (May 21). “Cannes is a big step in legitimizing its feature film program,” said movie industry portal (May 19). Both films will be released to Netflix video-on-demand subscribers in June. Netflix co-produced Okla and has exclusive distribution rights to The Meyerowitz Stories.

That the two Netflix films are scheduled for release on the SVoD service before theaters set-off howling and wailing among film purists, represented by French cinema owners. Cannes organizers made a rule change a week before the event to insure Palme d’Ore nominated films are shown in French theaters before release to the small screens. But the new rule won’t affect this year’s Palme d’Ore; next year, yes.

“I personally do not conceive of the Palme d’Ore or any other prize being given to a film and then not being able to see this film on the big screen,” said Spanish film director and Cannes jury chairman Pedro Almodovar in a statement opening the festival, quoted by Screen International (May 17). “The size of the screen should not be smaller than the chair you’re sitting on, you must be feel small and humble in front of the image. For as long as I live, I’ll be fighting for one thing that I’m afraid the new generation is not aware of: it’s the capacity to be hypnotised by the big screen.”

"Why would we want to hold back a movie for an enormous number of people to enjoy throughout the entire country that a few hundred, maybe a few thousand people could see the film in Paris?,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos, quoted by the New York Times (May 19). “It seemed to me like the right thing to do was to give the people, our subscribers, who pay to make these movies, access to them immediately all over the world.”

The French Media Chronology Law, originally drafted in 1982 to save cinema operators from television, was revised in 2009 to include those new fangled digital platforms. The prescribed window from theatrical release and SVoD is 36 months. Alas, French operators of streaming services competing with Netflix, Amazon Prime and others - from broadcasters Canal+ and TF1 to telecom Orange - want the window shortened if not closed altogether. Newly elected French president Emmanuel Macron indicated on the campaign trail the law could be revisited.

The law was drafted during the term of Culture Minister Jack Lang, credited also for the concept of cultural exception for audiovisual services. Cultural goods “are not goods like others,” he said. Hence, France subsidizes all book publishing, film production and cinemas. The Culture Ministry financially supports the Cannes Film Festival.

Newly appointed French prime minister named Françoise Nyssen minister of culture and communication last week, just as the Cannes Film Festival opened. She’s from the book business, running boutique publisher Éditions Actes Sud since 2000. It publishes works of Nobel laureates. She will attend the Cannes Film Festival closing ceremonies like all her predecessors.

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