CANNES: Cannes jury chief Pedro Almodovar fired a warning shot at streaming giant Netflix Wednesday declaring that the film that wins the festival’s top prize should be shown in cinemas.
The online giant has refused to show two of its movies in the running for the Palme d’Or in French movie theatres, sparking a huge row that threatens to overshadow the world’s top film festival, which starts officially late Wednesday.
The Spanish director, who heads a jury that includes Hollywood stars Will Smith and Jessica Chastain, took a tough line with Netflix, telling reporters that it would be “an enormous paradox if the Palme d’Or went to a film that cannot be seen in cinemas.
“The only solution I think is that the new platforms accept and obey the existing rules,” he added.
He said he could not imagine “the Palme d’Or nor any other prize being given to a film, and then not being able to see that film on a large screen”.
Many read his statement as indicating that neither of Netflix’s highly touted films — “Okja” starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, nor Sofia Coppola’s American Civil War thriller “The Beguiled” featuring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell — would win anything.
But Almodovar may not have his way on the jury.
Actor Smith, who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of boxer Muhammad Ali, launched a spirited defence of Netflix, saying it “broadens my children’s cinematic global comprehension”.
“In my house Netflix has been nothing but an absolute benefit because they get to watch films that they never would have even seen,” he added.
Last week festival organisers changed the rules to effectively ban Netflix films in future, insisting that movies in competition must be shown on the big screen afterwards.
Netflix, however, has refused to back down, with boss Reed Hastings claiming that “the establishment is closing ranks against us”.
The row centres on strict rules that restrict online streaming in France until three years after a movie goes on general release.
The battle — which has divided film-makers — has prompted French directors and producers to appeal to their government to change rules.
With the escalating row taking the spotlight from festival’s opening, festival chief Thierry Fremaux sought to downplay the row.
“Cinema operators are right to protest, but as director I have to make the best festival in the world, with the best films,” he told the Nice-Matin newspaper.che
With Cannes celebrating its 70th year, A-listers including Kidman, Clint Eastwood and Chinese actress Fan Bingbing (X-Men) jetted into the glitzy French resort amid “unprecedented” tight security.
Italian actress Monica Bellucci will host the gala opening ceremony on Wednesday night, with French drama “Ismael’s Ghosts”, starring Marion Cotillard, as the opening film.
Stars are arriving under tighter security than in previous years, 10 months after the truck attack in nearby Nice that killed 86 people.
Concrete barriers — in the form of giant flower pots — have been set up to try to block a similar assault, and snipers have been positioned above sensitive sites.
Patrick Mairesse, a top regional security official, said the goal was to be as “invisible as possible, to cause as little nuisance as possible — so the party can stay a party”.
Elsewhere at the festival, veteran British actress Vanessa Redgrave on Wednesday unveiled her first film as a director — “Sea Sorrow”, a documentary about Europe’s migrant crisis.
Kidman, however, is the undisputed queen of this year’s Cannes, starring in three movies as well as the TV series “Top of the Lake”, which is getting a special screening.
Others in the running for top honours include “Happy End”, another film set against the backdrop of the migrant crisis by “Amour” director Michael Haneke, who is seeking a record-breaking third Palme d’Or.
Another highlight will be Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu showcasing a virtual reality project that allows the viewer to walk in the footsteps of refugees.