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International Cinema Group Urges Festivals to Ban Non-Theatrically Released Films From Competition

With the Berlin Film Festival about to wrap and Cannes fast approaching, the International Union of Cinemas (UNIC) is urging programmers at leading festivals to select for competition only films that will receive a full theatrical release.

UNIC, which represents exhibitors and cinema associations in 37 countries, mostly in Europe, said in a statement Friday that it expects leading film festivals to “ensure that all selected films observe established industry norms – including a full and genuine theatrical release.” The organization added: “We can’t imagine that festivals propose programs just for a small number of subscribers of specific streaming platforms, privatizing both the audience and the films themselves.”

UNIC did not name particular platforms such as Netflix or Amazon. But the organization’s statement came amid the Berlin Film Festival, which sparked anger among German exhibitors over the inclusion of a Netflix film, “Elisa y Marcela,” in competition. It marks the first time a Netflix film has been chosen by Berlinale chief Dieter Kosslick to screen in competition.

“UNIC supports German cinema exhibition colleagues and others in encouraging festival competitions only to consider for inclusion those films intended for a full theatrical release,” the organization said.

It noted that the Berlinale has a rule that only films “intended for theatrical release” are eligible for competition and that “there seems to be no such plan for ‘Elisa y Marcela.'” But a German industry insider said the rule does not specify where the theatrical release must take place. In the case of “Elisa y Marcela,” it could be argued that it would indeed have a theatrical release – just not in Germany but instead in Spain, where A Contracorriente will release it.

The Cannes Film Festival, which was the first fest to establish a rule making theatrical release mandatory for competition films, will unveil its official selection in mid-April. Artistic director Thierry Fremaux has been discussing with Netflix for several months to find a compromise that would allow the streaming giant to make a comeback on the Croisette.

Last year, Cannes missed out on Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” because of the rule preventing Netflix from having a film in competition. Netflix’s pipeline of anticipated films in post-production includes Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” but multiple sources have said the movie is still deep in editing and won’t be finished on time for the festival.

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