The future state of cinema has been one of the most hotly-debated topics in sun-drenched Cannes this week, during what jury president Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu described as a “crucial” stage for the “collective film experience”.
For the second year running, movies by streaming giant Netflix are notable by their absence, as talks remain ongoing between the studio and the festival about its commitment to theatrical releases.
Competition rules dictate films considered for the esteemed Palme d’Or prize cannot be streamed within three years of competing and this unwavering stance caused Cannes to miss out hosting the Oscar-winning Roma last year – as Netflix took the film elsewhere for its premiere.
Prior to this year’s event, festival director Thierry Frémaux declared: “We are not ready to welcome films that are not released in a theatre” and his passion for the preservation of the big screen experience – amidst a sea of readily available online content – was echoed on Tuesday by Inarritu who praised the “communal experience” of cinema.
However, the filmmaker remains upbeat that cinemas and streamers can work together to find a better solution.
“There are great films all around the world,” he said, “the thing is the way they are accessed by everybody.
“I am a true believer that to watch a film is not to see a film, and to see [something] is not to experience something. And cinema was born to be experienced in as communal experience.”
He continued: “I do not have anything against watching on a phone, on an iPad or a computer; I sometimes do it myself with my headphones and I can enjoy.
“But I know that to watch a film there, is not the same.
Inarritu – who won an Oscar for the sweeping survival tale The Revenant in 2016 – added: “I was saying the other day to a friend, if somebody 200 years from now should come alive and should see me listening to Beethoven in ridiculous speakers in my car, I would say ‘yeah, it’s great, what is wrong with that?’
“But it would be disastrous if there was not an opportunity to hear a whole 100 person orchestra playing in a concert hall.
“It’s great that they [Netflix, Amazon et al] exist in TV but why not give people the chance to experience cinema.”
One thing people in Cannes will not be able to experience this year, is the premiere of Martin Scorsese’s new film, The Irishman – starring Robert De Niro and Al Pacino.
The Netflix-backed film would have been one of the biggest draws at this year’s festival had an agreement been in place, although reports suggest it might not have been ready in time.
Scorsese has praised the streaming giant for affording him the “money” and freedom” to tell the story,
Other directors, though, including Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino – who arrives next week with his new film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – appear more loyal to the Cannes cause and less keen to make “TV movies”.
Imax CEO Richard Gelfond told the BBC streaming companies, which will soon include Apple+, Disney and Warner, might struggle to attract top filmmakers.
“I don’t want to sound arrogant,” he said, “but there hasn’t been an Imax-worthy film yet made by a streaming company.
“I think there’ll come a time but they’re a long way off.
“The biggest directors are reluctant to make a blockbuster for streaming,” he added.
Gelfond has been toasting the recent success of the record-busting Avengers: Endgame movie. Imax screenings of the MCU finale broke through the $200m mark.
The chain’s next move is to team up with Amazon studios to debut The Aeronauts, directed by Tom Harper and starring Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, on Imax screens exclusively for a week in October.
Gelfond predicts the future for mid-budget movies will generally be away from major studios and “on to streaming platforms”, as the industry adapts to the new technological era.
Netflix screened Roma in US movie theatres in order to it qualify for the Academy Awards and Gelfond argues there is no reason why streaming services can’t include “theatrical screenings” on release.
Away from the glamour of the Oscars and the Palme d’Or, filmmakers from around the world can be found in the basement of Cannes’ Palais Des Festivals, showing off their wares to potential buyers and distributors.
Chantal Toporow from House of Film – “a boutique distributor on a world scale” as she puts it – believes the value of a theatre showing for a small film anywhere is worth much more than being included on a streaming service.
“We make movies with a twist and more cerebral curated content,” she said.
“You’re not monetising your film as best as you can only by streaming.
“You really want to get as many theatrical releases as you can, in Cambodia or wherever.”
Whether her movies and those of many other filmmakers of the future will be able to find a home in cinemas, online and maybe even in competition at Cannes in the near future, remains to be seen.