Steven Spielberg doesn't think Netflix movies should be allowed to compete for Academy Awards. In a recent interview (promoting his upcoming picture Ready Player One), the Beard went kind of buck wild, saying:
"A lot of studios today would rather just make branded, tentpole, guaranteed box office hits from their inventory of branded successful movies than take chances on smaller films. Those smaller films that studios used make routinely are now going to Amazon, Hulu, and Netflix. Television is really thriving with quality and art. But it poses a clear and present danger to film goers."
Spielberg continued, marking a clear line in the sand between what we see in theaters, and what is viewed on a streaming service in your living room:
“But in fact, once you commit to a television format, you’re a TV movie. You certainly, if it’s a good show, deserve an Emmy, but not an Oscar. I don’t believe the films that are just given token qualifications in a couple of theaters for less than a week should qualify for the Academy Award nomination.”
That's a pretty definitive statement from a guy most consider to be our greatest living pop filmmaker. Yet it seems the art world is in agreement with Spielberg. The Cannes Film Fest announced today - amidst a slew of new regulations that included everything from a red carpet selfie ban to competition adjustments - that Netflix Originals will no longer be able to vie for the festival's top honors.
In an interview with Le Film Francais, Cannes Festival head Theirry Fremaux announced the decision to bar the streaming giant's productions from being considered for awards, admitting that he may have made a mistake thinking that allowing the movies to compete last year would perhaps convince the company to re-evaluate its release strategy:
“Last year, when we selected these two films [Bong Joon-ho's Okja and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories], I thought I could convince Netflix to release them in cinemas. I was presumptuous, they refused.”
Fremaux elaborated on the most prestigious fest in the world's decision, citing ethos as a driving factor:
"The Netflix people loved the red carpet and would like to be present with other films. But they understand that the intransigence of their own model is now the opposite of ours. We have to take into account the existence of these powerful new players: Amazon, Netflix and maybe soon Apple. We’ll defend the image of a risk-prone festival, questioning the cinema, and we must be at the table every year.”
While that last bit may have been slightly lost in translation, it's pretty clear that Cannes sees themselves as premier gatekeepers of culture, and want to define how this new distribution model changes the nature of the pictures that play on it. However, the question still remains: does any of this really matter to the average cinema-goer, or the business of filmmaking as a whole?
The answer: maybe? What isn't mentioned here is the fact that these Netflix films are still allowed to play - according to James Emanuel Shapiro (BMD's regular Cannes attendee) - in one of the Fest's three sidebar sections. They just can't win any awards. So, the potential for these pictures to still gain a huge amount of buzz out of France is definitely present.
Furthermore, the average Netflix viewer isn't going to give a shit whether or not Mudbound or Okja killed at a foreign film fest. This is all a show for the hardest core cinephiles, who often engage in these types of format debates (leading to disagreements, killed friendships and, in the worst cases, bloodshed). The algorithm is still primarily going to reign supreme, allowing folks to stumble upon their next viewing option due to electronic "curation".
However, it's also difficult to estimate how Cannes' influence will trickle down to other film fests regarding their own submissions and awards processes. Does this mean that showcases like TIFF or Sundance could follow suit, or even take the rules one step further and bar Netflix Originals from playing at all? Despite the high price tags that usually come with a purchase from the streaming company, producers and filmmakers still want their movies to be recognized by traditional critics, festivals, and awards programs, and this would perhaps affect their decision to sell a movie to Netflix moving forward. Outside of monetary, the incentive suddenly goes out the window if these regulations progress, rendering the artistic merits of such productions null and void in awards shows' and festivals' eyes. The pictures are now merely products, to be pimped out by an online corporation.
Granted, all of this is reckless speculation, as really all we can do is watch and learn from here on out. Cannes is making controversial moves (per usual), and their effects can certainly only be measured as time marches on.