Will Smith Defends Netflix at Heated Cannes Jury Press Conference

Will SmithJury Press Conference - 70th

The Cannes Film Festival has never had a juror quite like Will Smith, who strode into the Palais to roars of applause that brought to mind the premiere of one of his action movies (think “MIB in Paris”).

The star of such popcorn hits as “Independence Day,” “Bad Boys” and “Suicide Squad” had the crowd of journalists so captivated at a Wednesday afternoon press conference, he didn’t leave much speaking time for his fellow jurors — like Jessica Chastain or a totally silent Paolo Sorrentino. Even the Cannes jury president, director Pedro Almodovar, had to succumb to the Will Smith show, admitting he’d always wanted to work with the movie star.

“When I first got the call, I was really excited,” Smith said, recounting the back-and-forth between him and his publicist with dramatic flair. “I was probably 14 years old the last time I watched three movies in one day. Three movies a day is a lot!” He stressed the unforeseen challenges that might arise from all those 8:30 a.m. screenings, sounding like a college freshman unsure if he’ll sleep through his alarm. “I’m going to be in bed every night, and I’m taking it very seriously,” Smith said. “I will be watching wide-awake, focused to do my best.”

He cracked jokes about his upbringing away from independent cinema. “West Philadelphia is a long way from Cannes,” he said. When a reporter noted that ex-juror Kirsten Dunst donned 28 outfits on last year’s red carpets, Smith had the jokes ready. “I’ll be going for 32,” he said, admitting the warm weather threw a wrench in his black-tie plans. “I wanted to be South of France Cannes sexy, but all that went out the window.”


Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho on Working With Netflix and the Controversy Over ‘Okja’ at Cannes

There was a serious note in the heart of the conversation when Almodovar, wearing dark sunglasses, read from a lengthy pre-written statement in Spanish. The Oscar-winning “Talk to Her” director spoke of tensions that have grown in a film industry that’s trying to grapple with new players like Netflix that don’t always premiere movies in theaters. French distributors have protested that two of this year’s in-competition titles, Netflix’s “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories,” didn’t until recently have a theatrical release in France. Almodovar made it clear which side of the debate he stood on.

“I personally do not conceive, not only the Palme d’Or, any other prize being given to a film and not being able to see this film on a big screen,” Almodovar said. “All this doesn’t mean I’m not open to or don’t celebrate the new technologies. I do.”

“I’ll be fighting for one thing that I’m afraid the new generation is not aware of,” he added. “It’s the capacity of the hypnosis of the large screen for the viewer.” He said he wanted everybody to witness a movie for the first time in a theater. “The size [of the screen] should not be smaller than the chair on which you’re sitting. It should not be part of your everyday setting. You must feel small and humble in front of the image that’s here.”

That seemed to be the last word — until Smith chimed in a few minutes later, launching into a defense of Netflix, as it related to the viewing habits of his three kids. “They go to the movies twice a week and they watch Netflix,” Smith said. “There’s very little cross between going to the cinema and watching what they watch on Netflix in my home.”

Netflix, it just so happens, is the distributor of Smith’s next movie, the big-budget “Bright,” which opens this year.

“In my house, Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit,” Smith said. “They get to see films they absolutely wouldn’t have seen. Netflix brings a great connectivity. There are movies that are not on a screen within 8,000 miles of them. They get to find those artists.”

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  1. Yasss says:

    If movies weren’t $20 for a ticket here in NYC i’d be more than happy to see many films on the big screen.
    Now a night out to the movies is $100 when you include tickets, a meal, and any drinks or popcorn.

    When Netflix produces the same quality as big movie studios why wouldn’t i prefer to watch from the enjoyment of my home?

    The accessibility of content as Smith mentions is what makes me such a fan. TV series and movies filmed all over the world and streamed to my TV.

  2. BAC says:

    I’ve heard a lot of defenses of the Cannes ruling related to the purity of the big screen, ignoring the fact that HD projectors are affordable and increasingly ubiquitous in households and all over the world. Big screens are not the issue if you can have one in your home. No. The issue is about keeping these houses in business – it’s a bailout move. The whole thing is a misguided attempt to shield French distributors from the sweeping tide of distribution reform and competition. I’m sympathetic to the fact that theaters owners need to adapt and compete in order to survive, and that sucks, but it happened to every other media industry affected by digital dist. platforms and to think French theater owners and distributors should be immune to the internet in 2017 is truly bizarre thinking. I could be wrong.

  3. F.F. says:

    Seems like Smith is unable to grasp what Almodovar is saying. Your kids like Netflix, they watch Netflix as well as going out to the movies, this is not relevant. The big screen and the experience of communal watching are NECESSARY ELEMENTS of the medium the Palme d’Or is given for. If your opus hasn’t done that, he and most of us do not see it as eligible for the prize. This isn’t hard. The America’s Cup is coming up, it’s a match race, a type of catamaran. You have a motor boat that can go faster, that’s nice for you, but it’s not competing in this race, which is for catamarans. So those of you spewing the “Netflix is good for diversity” really, REALLY don’t seem to have the understanding to be in this conversation. This is a race for catamarans, and your dumb little motor boat isn’t one. Get it?

  4. Anais Melero says:

    “rules of taste enforce structures of power”
    they are worried about their money

  5. Finnimm says:

    Yes, Netflix is bringing diversity and much needed competition to the industry. But viewers should have the option of watching the film at home or the cinema. Would Manchester by the Sea have made it to the Oscars if Amazon had left it stream-only? Netflix can sell its films to exhibitors, they just don’t want to. Bizarrely, they think that those of us who still prefer going to the cinema will subscribe just to see the films they’re not letting us see on the big screen. Sorry, that’s blackmail and movie-imperialism, and I’d rather wait for the films to get leaked.

  6. Oneiros says:

    They shouldn’t be allowed to blacklist a movie from a festival because it’s on Netflix. The prices of movie tickets are now barely affordable (15$ where I live). One movie ticket cost me more than and month on Netflix.
    I wouldn’t care much if it was just price related, but Netflix offers much more artistic decision to the directors and creative teams. How many movies released in theaters were ruined because of production? So the future of the cinema is going to see overpriced movies that are not even director’s vision?

    Cannes Festival is more thinking about the cinemas industry in France than the actual quality of the movies, this is sad.

  7. DNA says:

    I like to watch movies at home (with my projector and 110″ screen) because I can’t smoke marijuana in the movie theater.

  8. NewAgeThinker says:

    The job of the film festival is to judge content not the distribution model/strategy through which the film is distributed or viewed. Silly Cannes!

  9. Also, not everyone can afford to go to the movies much anymore. Ticket prices are sky-high, and if you have a family and a tight budget, you get a lot more bang for your buck investing in Netflix, which costs less than most movie theater tickets for a month’s worth of unlimited films and shows. At home, I can pause the movie when someone needs to leave the room, versus paying $14-18 or so to miss a key event when someone has to leave their seat and use the movie theater bathroom, sticking to the floor in front of my seat, sitting in someone’s spilled food, having to see around the tall person in front of me if it’s not stadium seating, listening to the jackass behind me blabbing throughout the film, asphyxiating on someone’s cologne overdose. I can also actually afford food to eat and drinks in my own home. It can easily cost a family of four $72 just for the movie without any extras!! Sorry, but I don’t have that kind of cash for a monthly, let alone weekly, family movie night. I’d rather make that investment in a decent flatscreen TV and stay home, watching with as many or as few people as I choose, at my own pace.

  10. Fernando says:

    I should feel small and humble before your movie Mr Almodovar?

    Such arrogance. I thought he was a great director.

    But a great director understands he only works for the audience, not the other way around.

    By the way, I already HAVE a huge screen at home. So I don’t have to go to a movie theatre, thank you very much.

  11. David Russell Foley says:

    The Cannes film festival has become virtually irrelevant now. It has gone the way of the pocket pager or the VCR.

  12. I don’t think anyone is truly opposed to expanding what we can watch at home and when we can watch it. The problem comes from the marginalizing of movie theatres. For those of us who enjoy watching movies on the big screen, we see the threat. If we allow this to go to far, there may be a day where movie theatres become a thing of the past, especially in small towns. It may be great to watch a movie on your 65 inch TV at home, but I don’t want to lose the chance to see it on the 50 foot screen at the movie theatre.

  13. Mark F Brack says:

    Being a former movie theatre owner and having seen Netflix start out their business model renting films I had booked and played after their theatrical release – and hearing the president of Netflix say that theatres have not changed in years – frankly has made me turn sour on Netflix. Netflix is hell bent on destroying theatrical exhibition in my humble opinion. Where I live – here in Dallas, Texas the theatres are constantly getting better. Our theatres – all of them offer leather recliner lounge chairs, huge screens, laser projection – it goes on and on. Netflix – hmmm – lets see I have to buy the TV to see their offerings – I have to find a way to get it into my house and pay for cable or satellite, I have to provide the sound system as well as the chair I sit in and I can’t get a 60 foot cinema scope screen in my house – SCREW Netflix – they will never get another dime of my money as long as they insist on avoiding a full theatrical release for their product! And I will not watch their shows or their movies – if you want to support these AHoles – be my guest – but remember over the long run all you will have our TV movies – is that what you want?

    • Bianca says:

      Eh, I pay for Netflix (don’t actually own a physical TV) but I also see 2-4 movies each month. I think it’s great movie theatres are finally offering a more luxurious movie going experience to make the tickets and the food good. If you want to be mad at someone, be mad at the movie industry who doesn’t allow theaters to make more than a dollar or two per seat, cause the concessions to be overpriced. I don’t get the hate for Netflix.

    • Ruse says:

      Jimmy, no one will pay to see a movie in a theater that they can see at home. In fact, I know many people that wished the theater disappeared entirely. They just see it as the reason they have to wait to watch a movie on Blu Ray 6-9 months after watching ads for it on TV.

    • Mark, almost everyone in their household has a tv, seating, and access to internet. These aren’t just for movies either – multiple uses. All you need to do is have an account to Netflix – which is probably cheaper a month than one person going to the theatre.

      The reason movie theatres are dying out is because they’re overpriced – tickets and food. If your customers are going, then it’s up to you to change. People obviously see Netflix as a much better option, so many are investing in that instead. It’s now theatres move – go cheaper or just make it harder for people to watch movies. If you make it harder to watch films but not cheaper, people still won’t go.

      Let people have access to movies at a cheaper and reasonable rate. Also allow people to watch new movies at home. But, hey, go bankrupt – the world will move on as there’s already a replacement.

    • Dave says:

      I go to a theater to see a movie twice a year and I always regret it. As a theater, you don’t respect my time. After a trip through the amusement arcade in the lobby, I either line up early to get a decent seat or I pay for the privilege of a reserved seat. I sit for half an hour watching advertising and lame quizzes, then I get to watch some trailers. Even in “VIP” cinemas that provide drinks and wine, I’m overpaying for poor quality fare.
      Why would I prefer this over my own very nice living room alongside only people I choose to watch with and with a dozen takeout menus of great food options?

    • Bob Sanders says:

      I’d love to know where and how you live to have issues purchasing a TV and getting it into your house but having no problems being able to get to and afford going to the movies. Also, you don’t need Cable or Satellite to get Netflix and where in blue blazes do you sit when you are home? Do you just get home and stand there? I have never been to a house that has no seating.

      I have a 120″ projection screen, 7.2 audio, and because I’m not sitting 50 feet from the screen it looks and sounds just as good as the theater. My normal TV is a 70″ and offers an excellent alternative to the insane prices that the theater charges. All of my stuff was done on a very low budget, about $1000 for the home theater and 1200 for the 70″ LED. For my family of 4 going to the movies plus getting a snack/drink tends to cost me 100 bucks. Even if we are cheap just the entry fee is almost 50 bucks these days. That means total cost of 22 movies with a snack or 44 movies going cheap… And I get to do it all from the comfort of my own home without a bunch of jerks texting/talking through the whole film, I can pause if I want to, and we have watched WAY more than 44 movies

    • Katelyn says:

      They’re footing the bills for projects nobody else would or can. It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, because in the past many local/national film industries with lesser resources than Hollywood’s status quo, had managed to survive over time with more ingenuity in funding or content packaging. Netflix should stimulate and diversify ways to get stuff made, not “end” anything in the long run.

  14. tripledipper says:

    Well said Mr. Smith.

  15. I’m with Will on this one. Besides, most people have nice sized screens at home now.

  16. paully says:

    I’m getting afraid to go to my local Movie Multiplex since it’s on the edge of a dangerous ghetto..
    I will instead drive 30 minutes to the very large IMAX screen in a distant town..
    My ROKU stick works wonderfully.. Netflix knows that local theaters are becoming a “thing” to avoid.
    Near the Multiplex is a large mall that has failed because people are happier to shop on Amazon.
    If the movie going experience sucks people now have techie choices..

  17. Dan says:

    I installed an led projector and an 80 inch screen in my living room for under 700 dollars. The screen is about 6-7 feet away from where I sit. Big screen is incredibly easy to do at home. I’ll stick with Netflix thanks. Better than a theatre of talkers and phone checkers.

  18. Allan Falk says:

    could be worse…..the industry catering to and kissing ass of china….the huge money market

  19. kat says:

    If beasts of no nation weren’t on netflix, it would have meant driving who knows how far and paying who knows how much to actually see it.

    • gargsy says:

      Theatres around you don’t have set prices? I go to the movies all the time and I’ve never been surprised by the price of a ticket.

  20. I agree with Will smith on this issue but I’m keenly aware of the experience that the big screen can give you. Maybe a solution would be to do a simultaneous release for tv and big screen.

    • Keith says:

      According to other articles on this topic, French law states that movies cannot be released for Video-On-Demand until three years after the theatrical release. I believe we should focus on preserving the culture of storytelling rather than controlling how we think people should experience it.

  21. Phillip Ayling says:

    Will Smith says he’s a long way from Philadelphia while musing about films in Cannes, yet his viewpoint is seemingly driven by a belief that his children are a reliable barometer for the Cinematic Arts in France and elsewhere.

  22. Kevincannon says:

    What everyone here is missing is the fact that Will Smith is an A-Lister and gets his price and residuals from Netflix ! All the rest of us working actors who you have seen but don’t really know who we are have Lost All our residuals with the likes of Netflix,Amazon etc !!!Will Smith should be standing in solidarity with his fellow artists and demand Netflix pay the rest of us ! He is now a Greedy producer/Actor and screw the rest of us!Plus most countries and states pay over 30% of the production cost (Free Taxpayer Money) to the producers to film in their state or country !!!!Every producer/A-Lister gets a free ride off of the 160,000 SAG Members who are not A-Listers !!!!!Will Smith has forgotten where he came from and is a disgrace to the working unknown SAG Actors.

  23. I will admit I hope the experience of watching a feature film in a theatre never goes away. I love viewing a film in the comforts of my home. I truly love the “large screen in a theatre” experience especially at the DGA in Los Angeles or New York! Will a reminder to be gracious to your colleagues,

  24. facts! says:

    Will Smith ain’t no auteur, and it shows. He doesn’t give a crap about film, his perspective is that he’s been on TV, so it’s all the same–that’s as much as he knows.

    Can you imagine “400 Blows” having been shown on TV first and only? (Will Smith, have you seen “400 Blows”? “2001”? etc. Do you know what I’m talking about?) Hooray for the Cannes FF for making their important point!

    Never mind that as long as there are theaters out there, and hard-liners like the CFF, and cinephiles who want to make films not run-on TV series, and interested people, engaged in a variety of art forms, there will always be cinema. Netflix can sulk all it wants. And Will Smith can continue to talk out of his butt.

  25. Love Will Smith and always will! And Almodovar! They both have a point, but i do agree with Will Smith the most. I watch tons of movies on Netflix that i would never have seen in a theater, and i think most people watch movies at home. That’s a fact, and to deny it would be a lie. It’s always great to see an event movie on the big screen (Get Out was a great communal experience) but it’s hard to beat the comfort and the viewing quality that you get at home. Ultimately, it’s the quality of the movie that matters the most, not the way it’s distributed. I’ve seen all the great masterpieces of European, American or Asian cinema on video or on tv and they have left me with vivid memories. I also think the 3 year streaming window after release in France is ridiculous and counter-productive.

  26. Jimmy says:

    Have to agree with Will Smith on this one. I am a cinema goer lover and a movie like Okja I will make sure to see on the big screen before watching in my lounge room. But Netflix is a portal to an array of films, past and present ones. They are also making great artistic choices in movies they decide on financing or distributing that may not have gotten with many other companies.

    Netflix is far cheaper to the cinema and can act as a gateway to create film lovers who don’t have the luxury of going to the cinema.

    • Ahsoka says:

      Agreed. The quality of the film is what should matter. The Cannes Film Festival need to step up their game if they want to be with modern times. Many great films are on Netflix, and since he cinematic experience has changed in the past 10 years I think Netflix films should be considered in the festival.

      I used to love going to the cinema but, now with all the people texting, Facebook, Instagram and using the cinema as social hour instead of paying attention to the film. I prefer to watch movies in the comfort of my own home.

      Film is film, it should not matter where you see it, as along as it is good and you enjoy it.

  27. How curious. Your text doesn’t mention that Smith’s next movie is… A Netflix production.

    • Eric T says:

      From the article:
      “Netflix, it just so happens, is the distributor of Smith’s next movie, the big-budget “Bright,” which opens this year.”

    • Mere says:

      Not sure of your point. Netflix is financing a significant portion of the film industry now. EVERYONE’s “next movie” is a Netflix production.

    • Donna says:

      Significant point! Smith should have been upfront! If the Cannes rules state theatrical release must happen prior to any other, like Netflix, then the rule should stand for all films. Theatrical experience is like no other!

      • Becca says:

        It still doesn’t change Will’s point. At the end of the day, it’s about access, and for a good portion of the world, there isn’t access to an art-house theater (since the majority of the art movies do not receive worldwide distribution anyway). However, if you have an internet connection, you can access millions of titles through multiple streaming services.

        Plus, the first Pedro Almodovar movie I saw was All About My Mother. Guess where I saw it? NETFLIX (and that was when it was solely a mail-order DVD service). When I looked around for his other movies, guess what? They weren’t being shown in my area, nor were they available in my local Best Buy for purchase. Guess how I was able to view the rest of his filmography? NETFLIX.

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