Netflix snooty at Cannes and our sector clobbered

Netflix has managed to dump both Jane Campion and Andrew Dominik out in the cold as everyone else focuses on Cannes.

Cannes 2021 is a very loaded moment. The festival sticks obsessively and rightly to the idea that films should be seen in cinemas, and refused to go online for the 2020 screenings. That noble gesture wrecks a lot of releases, which were relying on the festival as a launchpad.

Six days ago, festival director Thierry Fremaux rewarded veteran journalist Eric Kohn with an email interview just before the list of official contenders was revealed. ‘Cannes supports cinema, and cinema requires theaters,’ he wrote. ‘We could have had a virtual festival, and we didn’t, because it would have trivialized the event. Cannes canceled in 2020. It was better to go down in history that way than with a few screenings on the internet to make people believe that we exist.’

This year Cannes has a bumper harvest, up from 1800 entries to 2300. Fremaux can fill cinemas under French Covid regulations and has been dicing with the stars to see if they can escape their own cages for the red carpet. He has been talking to Netflix.

‘We are having a positive dialogue,’ he claimed. ‘For the moment, the company does not accept the Cannes rules, which are precise: the films in the competition must be distributed in French theaters. We want the Palme d’Or to be seen by all spectators in any cinema in the world. But the decision is up to them.’

He really wants Jane Campion’s Netflix film; after all, she is the only woman to win a Palm d’Or at Cannes. ‘If its leaders agree, Netflix will come back through the front door and be wonderfully received. Part of the future of images is in their hands. They must be present in Cannes.’

Netflix has said no. Jane Campion’s film, The Power of the Dog will not be there. It is written and directed by Campion, based on the book by Thomas Savage about two warring brothers in Montana, produced through See-Saw Films, Brightstar, BBC Film, Big Shell Films and Max Films. Iain Canning and Emile Sherman are producers along with Campion, Roger Frappier and Tanya Seghatchian.

Also in the dumpster is Andrew Dominik’s film Blonde, about Marilyn Monroe. He is known here for Chopper, but he also made The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Killing Them Softly and One More Time With Feeling.

The film is based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, and produced through Plan B’s Brad Pitt, who was also a producer on Killing Them Softly, in which he starred.

Jane Campion may not care that much, but Andrew Dominik could probably use the brand burnishing that an out-of-competition screening would give an indefatigable director with a fine sense of time and space.

We think of both Jane Campion and Andrew Dominik as Australians. In fact they are both proud New Zealanders.

It seems to me that Netflix is the loser here. Thierry Fremaux is being very gracious and Netflix is now used to screening films in cinemas in selected territories. Surely the company would like to swank around Cannes with all the other glory hunters. 

David Tiley was the Editor of Screenhub from 2005 until he became Content Lead for Film in 2021 with a special interest in policy. He is a writer in screen media with a long career in educational programs, documentary, and government funding, with a side order in script editing. He values curiosity, humour and objectivity in support of Australian visions and the art of storytelling.