Cannes (Somewhat Reluctantly) Enters the Digital Age

by Luca Celada May 16, 2017
Scenes from Twin peaks, Okja,The Meyerowitz Stories and Top of the Lake:China Girl

Scenes from the brave new world: Twin Peaks 2017;Okja; The Meyerowitz Stories; Top of the Lake: China Girl.

netflix/sundance/showtime

With Venice, Cannes is the grande dame of film festivals one of the last bastions of pure cinema in its original form: an art form made to be seen in a theater. But even these last bastions of cinematic purity there are intimations of growing pains. With the growing importance of serial fiction (aka TV series) and the increasing transfer of talent between large and small screen festivals from Sundance to Toronto have begun programming some high-end series alongside feature films.

So far Cannes has been the lone holdout among A-list fests but the realities of the business have apparently caught up with the programmers here. Last year was Amazon’s year with Amazon Studios showing several films including the festival opener by Woody Allen and Nicolas Winding Refn's controversial Neon Demon.

 This year Amazon is back as well as Netflix which has two titles on the Croisette: Bong Joon-ho’s Okja and Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories. While Amazon is pursuing a policy of releasing up to sixteen titles theatrically a year, Netflix is making no such commitment (witness the upcoming straight-to-streaming release of  War Machine). That policy has ruffled many feathers among theater owners who fear it puts their business at a disadvantage in an increasingly competitive digital environment. The pushback has been particularly intense in France where rules mandate no less than a three-year theatrical window to protect the national film industry. Word from the Croisette is that festival director received intense pressure to drop Netflix titles. In the end the films will stay but an official announcement made clear that starting in 2018 any film hoping for a Cannes screening will need to be distributed in French theaters.

The victory for the hard line also calls into question the inclusion of series on a purely philosophical basis. This year Frémaux was able to include first-ever screenings of episodes from Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake 2 (Sundance) and Showtime’s eagerly anticipated Twin Peaks reboot from longtime friend of the festival David Lynch. They will be presented as part of the special screenings honoring the 70th anniversary edition, but it is unclear if series will be screened again here in the future.

The changing landscape of film is also modifying the exclusivity on which festivals used to insist. For instance this year Cannes will feature four films which previously bowed at Sundance. Al Gore’s Inconvenient Sequel will be part of the Special screenings (as a way perhaps to align the festival – and host country – with the Paris climate treaty which seems increasingly imperiled of late). Wind River, the directorial debut by Sicario and Hell or High Water scribe Taylor Sheridan bowed in Park City in January to mostly positive reviews and it will be screened on the Croisette as part of the Certain Regard section. Two Sundance titles will be seen as part of the Quinzaine  (Directors Fortnight) program.: Geremy Jasper’s breakout feature debut Patti Cake$ will bring its rap-inflected beat and feel-good vibes to France and indie genre-post-apocalyptic (and post-Trump) Brooklyn actioner Bushwick starring Dave Bautista, will also have a showing. Lastly Come Swim  a short directed by Kirsten Stewart – also shown at Sundance - will round up the 70th Special Screenings.

An indication that an increasingly global and competitive festival circuit the way of the future is more sharing of films and formats.