Film Festivals play an interesting role in the movie scene these days. While an "independent movie" used to mean a movie that wasn't part of the major studio system, now those same major studios tend to have "indie" divisions to pick up the offbeat award movies of the festival circuit. However, the independent section of cinema has always been trying to break away from the studio system that has never treated them properly, and it looked like we were on our way.
At the Sundance Film Festival this year, Netflix and Amazon were two of the heavy hitters picking up lots of movies and documentaries. The reality of the movie industry is that Video On Demand and streaming services are going to become the norm and the theater experience is slowly going away. During an investors call yesterday, Disney dismissed any idea that their movies could ever go to VOD.
"The movies we make are perfect for consumption on the big screen. … What we've got going is working and we have no reason to disrupt that."
That might be true, but for the types of movies that go to Cannes or Sundance, that isn't reality anymore. A small, indie movie doesn't need to be screened in a theater to get the experience. (On a personal note, I see most of the award movies at home because I get screener DVD's in the mail from studios.) The world is moving toward streaming and VOD in all areas of the industry but it's getting there faster when it comes to indie movies.
That is why the announcement made by Cannes today via Deadline is so backwards. There was some debate over the fact that Cannes decided to let two Netflix movies into the competition this year: Bong Joon-ho's Okja and Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories. The business model of providing the movies directly to the customers with no theatrical release date appears to be the problem. The festival announced today that the movies will remain in selection but that they are making adjustments for 2018.
"Consequently, and after consulting its Members of the Board, the Festival de Cannes has decided to adapt its rules to this unseen situation until now: any film that wishes to compete in Competition at Cannes will have to commit itself to being distributed in French movie theaters."
This feels like Cannes struggling to stay relevant in an era that is leaving the festival circuit behind. The world is changing the way it consumes media and the idea that the only way a small art house production is going to get picked up is through festivals just isn't true. There are tons of ways for those small movies to get their names out there. The advent of social media and viral marketing means with the right tweet, an indie can get on VOD and do very well. There are multiple ways for creative filmmakers to get their movies out to the public now and it doesn't always mean appealing to the festival circuit.
Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, all of these film festivals need to look to the future. The world is quickly changing and these festivals have always been about bringing new talent to the forefront of the industry. That same industry could easily leave them behind if they aren't careful and that brave, new talent will render them utterly irrelevant.