French Film Board Rejects Limited Release for Netflix’s Cannes Competition Films

PARIS – France’s National Film Board said Thursday that it has rejected the idea of granting Netflix a temporary visa for a limited release of the streaming giant’s two films in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories.”

The decision came a day after Cannes officials unveiled a new rule, effective in 2018, demanding that all films in competition secure theatrical distribution in France.

After Cannes unveiled its lineup last month, Netflix initiated negotiations with Paris-based outfit The Jokers to have the distribution company handle discussions with the film board about a temporary visa for “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories.” Such a permit would allow Netflix to offer a maximum of six public screenings in France for up to one week. Netflix apparently hoped that the limited release would allow it to make the films available for streaming right away, without waiting the three years normally required by France’s strict windowing regulations.

But Frédérique Bredin, the president of France’s film board, told Variety on Thursday that the board would not grant the permit to Netflix because she expected the company to give a wider theatrical release to the two films since they are in competition at Cannes. She added that even with such a temporary visa, Netflix would not have been allowed to bypass French windowing rules.

Netflix is now working with The Jokers on an alternative plan to release “Okja” in select theaters in France, insiders say. One possibility is to four-wall several theaters in France to show “Okja” day and date with its global rollout on Netflix on June 28. Such private screenings would not be subjected to France’s window-release regulations, and the film board would have no say in the matter.

While France’s main exhibitors might shun the prospect of renting their theaters to The Jokers and Netflix, some smaller arthouse venues might be willing to be part of an operation that would surely attract publicity.

Manuel Chiche, who owns The Jokers, is a fan of Bong Joon-ho’s work and has distributed several of his previous films in France, including “Memories of Murder” and “Snowpiercer.” The Jokers is one of France’s most significant purveyors of high-profile American indies and Asian films.

The selection of Netflix films in competition at Cannes has triggered a clash between the festival and its board, which is made up of representatives of the exhibitors’ association and other film guilds that are hostile to the streaming company. Cannes’ artistic director, Thierry Fremaux, apparently expected Netflix to work out a limited theatrical release, and appears not to have anticipated the level of backlash. In the end, he and the board opted to maintain Netflix’s films in competition without a traditional theatrical release but issued a new rule Wednesday that any film in competition would have to “commit to being distributed in French movie theaters.”

The Directors’ Fortnight section is not considering such a rule since it is a non-competitive section, Edouard Waintrop said.

The controversy over Netflix’s competition films has underscored the need for France to examine its windowing rules. Discussions have been deadlocked for several years, but Bredin of the film board said talks about changes are ongoing.

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