The fight between Netflix and traditional cinema is heating up. But, if you’re not the kind of person who thinks that the filmography of Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a killer conversation starter at parties (understandable), you might not actually be aware of it yet.
The scrap is between traditionalists who think ‘true cinema’ requires 35mm film projected onto a huge screen, and streaming services that have profit as their first priority. And it all came to a head last week when the Cannes Film Festival announced that films screening in Competition at future festivals would require a theatrical release in France.
This was a direct reaction to criticism over two of this year’s Competition films, Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories, which were both produced by Netflix and thereby destined for small screen streaming. More broadly, though, the move reads as an attempt to maintain the status quo. Or, as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings put it, “the establishing closing ranks against [Netflix].”
As a dyed-in the-wool cinephile — the kind of person who spends their weekends watching repertory screenings of Jacques Rivette or Andrei Tarkovsky films and, yes, has actually had extended conversations about Weerasethakul movies with strangers — you would think that my loyalties would lie with Cannes. After all, Cannes represents cinema at its most prestigious, and Netflix is the place where — if you’re lucky — you’ll find Chinatown sandwiched between Fuller House and Scrotal Recall. But I’m squarely in Netflix’s corner when it comes to this fight.
If you have an interest in the continued existence of interesting independent film, then Netflix should be an ally, not the enemy.