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Cannes: ‘Okja’ Director Bong Joon-ho Dismisses French Controversy Over Netflix

Bong Joon-ho, Korean director of the Cannes Film Festival-bound drama “Okja,” has pushed back at sectors of the French industry that are angry with the selection of two Netflix-backed films in the competition section.

“I don’t take seriously the recent debate” between Cannes, Netflix and French film board CNC, said Bong (“Snowpiercer”). “In the end, physical theaters and digital streaming platforms will co-exist.”

Neither “Okja” nor Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” are on track to receive even limited theatrical releases in France, having been refused temporary exhibition visas by the CNC.

Bong spoke Monday at a presentation in Seoul alongside Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos. They confirmed that “Okja” will, in fact, receive theatrical outings in three territories: South Korea, the U.S. and the U.K.

“’Okja’ will receive an unlimited wide release in South Korea on June 29, not just in a few theaters for a limited time,” said Kim Woo-taek, CEO of Korean distributor Next Entertainment World. The film will simultaneously be available on Netflix’s platform in some 190 countries.

Sarandos was at pains to make it clear that Netflix is not against physical cinemas. “I would actually like all our films in theaters,” he said. He said “Okja” would release in selected theaters in the U.S. and U.K. and described the outing in London as a “qualifying run.”

“From the very beginning, Netflix and my team made it clear that ‘Okja’ will screen in big theaters in those three territories, and things are working out as we planned,” said Bong. “I am sure Ted goes to theaters to watch movies with his family, while the members of the CNC surely have Netflix accounts at home.”

Bong also said Netflix had made the film’s production possible. “For me, as a filmmaker, how much creative freedom I am given is much more important than how the film is distributed,” Bong said. “Some companies did not want to invest in ‘Okja,’ because it was too expensive” – the production budget has been estimated at $50 million – “while others turned it down because the film had a bold storyline. Netflix guaranteed both the budget and my complete creative freedom. Whether in America or in France, not many financiers are willing to do that. So I had no reason to hesitate working with them.”

The Seoul event also involved the film’s international producers Jeremy Kleiner, Dooho Choi (“Snowpiercer”,) Seo Woo-sik (“Mother”,) and Lewis Kim (“Snowpiercer”.)

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