After a two-year controversy in which the absence of Netflix movies from the Cannes Film Festival lineup garnered almost as much attention as the titles that were actually programmed, festival director Thierry Frémaux managed to get through an entire session with the press Monday without being asked a single question about the streaming service.
And then, during a news conference Tuesday afternoon with the jurors who select the Palme d’Or winner, the jury president, Alejandro González Iñárritu, brought it up himself.
“I always ask, how many of these films that we will see over the next 10 days will be exhibited to the world, especially in Mexico, where there are few art cinemas?” Iñárritu said, noting that Netflix could provide a more robust form of worldwide distribution.
“Netflix has been doing a great job because they have been capitalizing on the lack of these films,” Iñárritu said. “Why not give people the choice to experience cinema?”
The advent of film streaming has met stubborn opposition from exhibitors in France, where the law dictates a 36-month window between showings in theaters and on streaming. Ever since Netflix titles “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)” played in Cannes two years ago, those exhibitors have successfully pressured the festival and Frémaux to give Netflix the cold shoulder. Last year, Netflix films available for Cannes, like Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” were shut out of the competition. Netflix claimed it had no films ready for this year’s edition. (The service’s Martin Scorsese drama, “The Irishman,” isn’t due till later in the year.)
But some sort of future compromise seems likely, given the influx of deep-pocketed streamers on the way: Apple, which will soon unveil its own streaming content, is on board the next film directed by Cannes veteran Sofia Coppola. Frémaux would also prefer not to lose more prestige films like “Roma,” which wound up at the Venice Film Festival last year.
“What really is at stake now is the way we are experiencing films,” said Iñárritu, who praised moviegoing as a communal experience but said, “I have nothing against watching on a phone, an iPad or a computer.
“One should not cancel the other,” he added.
The two-time winner of the best director Oscar, Iñárritu will preside over a jury that includes actress Elle Fanning and is top-heavy with directors, including recent Oscar nominees Yorgos Lanthimos and Paweł Pawlikowski, as well as Kelly Reichardt and Alice Rohrwacher.
“It’s the first time I’m not trying to get out of jury duty,” Reichardt joked, though she bemoaned the media’s inevitable focus on her gender: “I look forward to a time that will come when we don’t have to say ‘woman directors’ or ‘as a woman.’ ”
Still, the presence of women in the Cannes competition is perhaps second only to Netflix as a continuing concern: Just three female directors made the competition lineup this year, a number that has not grown over the past three years. Additionally, Jane Campion remains the only female director in Cannes history to win the Palme d’Or, for “The Piano” in 1993.
“People keep asking us what it’s like being a woman director,” said Rohrwacher, who was in competition last year with “Happy as Lazzaro.” Instead of asking the women, she suggested that reporters interrogate the people with real power: producers, executives and financiers.
“It’s a bit like asking someone who survived a shipwreck why they’re still alive,” Rohrwacher said. “Well, ask the person that built the boat.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.