Italian cinema theatre owners are livid that Netflix will release some of its movies the very day they are screened at the upcoming 75th edition of the Venice Film Festival.
The 11-day annual event, older than the Cannes Film Festival, will unroll on August 29 on the quaint little island of Lido, off mainland Venice.
The head of the Venice Film Festival (which started its run in 1932 basically as a propaganda platform for Fascist rulers), Alberto Barbera, said some days ago in Rome while announcing the movie line up that unlike Cannes, he was willing to move on with times, and streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon were today's reality. In fact, Venice was the first Festival to have screened a Netflix original, The Birth of a Nation, in 2015.
Perhaps, the Cannes supremo, Thierry Fremaux, too shares Barbera's views, but given the power of the French theatre lobby, he could not displease it.
So, Cannes had to reject some of the Netflix/Amazon films, because French exhibitors said that no movie could be shown on websites before being released in cinemas, and that there had to be a good interval between the two screenings.
Cannes' losses have now become Venice's gains: Joel and Ethan Coen’s new Western, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Paul Greengrass' 22 Jul, (on the 2011 terrorist attack in and around Oslo that killed 77 people), Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, and Orson Welles’ unfinished The Other Side of the Wind (restored version) are Netflix productions that will be shown on the Lido.
The question now is, will Venice be able to go ahead with its plan.
Two major Italian organisations -- ANEC (National Association of Cinema Exhibitors) and ANEM (National Association of Multiplex Exhibitors) -- have issued a joint statement criticising Barbera. They have vowed to fight simultaneous releases, even though, unlike in France, there is no law against such a practice in Italy.
One of the films which seems to have attracted particular attention is an Italian work, On My Skin, a police-brutality drama, which will be available to Netflix subscribers the world over on September 12 -- the same day it will be shown at the Festival.
However, Andrea Occhipinto, chief of Lucky Red, who heads the Italian distributor's association, said that “theatrical and online play are different and compatible. The Italian industry needs to collectively face the windows issue.There is a changing reality. There are new players, a new modality of seeing movies….We want to prove that there is an audience that wants to see films in theatres” As there others who want to watch them on streaming platforms.
It will be interesting to see how this tussle will play out in the coming weeks and years.
(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran will be covering the 75th edition of the Venice Film Festival)