Venice Film Festival’s Netflix Stance Divides Italian Industry



When Cannes refused to show Netflix movies in Competition earlier this year many rolled their eyes. ‘Only in France’, they said. Not so fast, it turns out.

While Venice’s line-up has got most of us salivating, the festival’s warm embrace of Netflix – the streaming giant has a record six movies on the Lido, including three in Competition – has stirred up unexpected tension in the local biz.

Italy’s two largest exhibition trade bodies, ANEC and ANEM, were first to sound the alarm, on Tuesday criticizing day-and-date streaming and Venice chief Alberto Barbera for including a movie that will show on Netflix soon after its festival debut. Cinemas unhappy about Netflix? Plus ca change, many probably thought.

But in a sign that Italian frustration over the issue extends beyond the exhibition sector, on Wednesday the 500-strong National Association Of Italian Filmmakers added their voice of discontent into the mix. And they went even further than the cinemas: “The Venice Film Festival’s decision to present three films in Competition that might not have theatrical releases is controversial and inappropriate,” it said in a lengthy joint statement with two more cinema organizations. The trio called on the festival to “reconsider this decision starting next year,” especially in light of the public funding it receives. Woof.

Now we don’t yet know Netflix’s international release plans for their bigger Venice movies such as Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, Paul Greengrass’s 22 July and the Coen’s The Ballad Of Buster Scruggs. The Roma team have said the film will have some kind of U.S. theatrical component, at least. But the Italian frustration goes beyond securing minor theatrical commitments. Despite the territory not having any formal legislation around windows a la France, the trade bodies are calling for greater consultation and discussion on Netflix’s presence at the festival and its day-and-date model in general.

On the same day the trade bodies were kicking up a fuss, local distributor Lucky Red was defending the day-and-date plans for its Venice-Netflix movie Sulla Mia Pelle. The film’s release plan represents a “big opportunity” for audiences, they said, “This is not an imposition. It’s a choice.”

Some of Italy’s most important players agree with them.

“I have no problem with Netflix being at Venice — we are in a different age,” Cattleya CEO Riccardo Tozzi told Deadline. “It’s unthinkable that we could keep the same distribution mechanisms as decades ago. Audiences consume movies in different ways today and we need to have different releases for different movies.

“Going to the cinema is a choice we make because we enjoy going to the cinema,” added the Gomorrah and Romanzo Criminale producer, whose Cattleya is a minority co-producer on Venice Days title Ricordi. “We need to work with cinemas to find a solution but if we don’t adapt to the desires of the audience we run the risk of destroying the business entirely.”

Italy’s box office is in a rut. Takings were down 12.5% last year as generally dependable Italian movies disappointed. Tozzi says the decline is partly because audiences want to consume films in different ways. Cinemas could use the same statistics to bolster their argument that they need more protection.

Either way, his point about evolution is echoed by Sky Italia EVP Programming Andrea Scrosati, who was on the Lido two years ago with the premiere of drama series The Young Pope. Scrosati is not an enemy of cinema. He pioneered playing hit crime series Gomorrah in cinemas and spearheaded the launch of powerful new theatrical distribution company Vision.

“I don’t find the day-and-date model problematic,” he says. “The window needs to change. At Sky Italia we believe in the theatrical life of movies. We see the importance of that model. But the industry needs to evolve. The window system is out of step with reality. It’s a wake up call. We should try to bring the players together but if that doesn’t happen there will be unilateral action that neither side will enjoy.”

Both men are clear that Barbera has worked wonders for Venice.

“Barbera is brilliant,” says Tozzi, reinforcing a generally-held and fair assessment. “He has attracted so many big movies and made the festival a real awards season launch-pad. He is also open to TV series and different ways of showcasing content.”

However, some we spoke to chimed with the trade associations’ misgivings about Netflix’s role at the blue-ribbon event.

One distributor said they were happy to have Netflix on the Lido but agreed with the Association of Filmmakers that Netflix films shouldn’t compete for Venice’s main prizes. “It’s a great idea to have Netflix films premiere at the festival, but they should be Out of Competition. The playing field is very different for true theatrical titles, so it’s important to keep them distinct,” said the exec who wanted to remain anonymous.

Another distributor maintained that Netflix gains an unfair marketing advantage through their model, “The brouhaha over Netflix is definitely a sore subject. Theater owners are understandably reeling because the rules of engagement are changing to their detriment. A day-and-date release is basically window dressing to qualify as a theatrical release for a variety of reasons, one being that when films are released theatrically that clout and visibility boosts all the other rights. When I pre-buy a theatrical film and then the film gets a U.S. day-and-date release, I’m not happy about it because the theatrical release is perfunctory and not meaningful.”

But one international festival head I spoke to on the condition of anonymity expressed shock at the lingering frustration towards Netflix.

“It’s ridiculous. Even after a film has been on Netflix we’re able to generate full houses for that movie. Netflix is working with some of the greatest filmmakers alive. Of course we need them at our festivals. We’re talking about movies by Orson Welles; I mean, are you kidding me? Netflix is backing movies that other film companies are no longer backing. There just isn’t another way at the moment. And anyway, Cannes has shown TV drama and TV movies for years. Is that so different?

“This will all be a moot point in a few years,” the industry veteran predicts. “There may be some resistance in France and within the EU, but it’s ultimately a losing battle.”

Paolo Sorrentino’s regular producer Carlotta Calori, who has Capri-Revolution in Venice’s main Competition, is also open to Netflix’s presence at the festival but she recognizes that Italy might need to look again at the structure of its public funding for film to reflect changes in how movies are consumed (this is a pan-European question), “Venice and Alberto should be at liberty to choose which movies they want. I’m open to experimentation but we might also need to look at the bigger model in Italy of which movies receive public funding via tax credits.”

Venice and Netflix have been silent on the unrest so far. The latter would prefer if more industry attention was given to its films than its model. Europe is certainly moving in that direction but the windows debate will not go away here entirely.

There seems little chance of Venice replicating a Cannes-style ‘Nexit’ but at a minimum discussions are likely to take place between the festival and key trade bodies about future strategy. Barbera’s contract is up next year, which further complicates the matter. As for Netflix, their journey into the Lido isn’t all plain-sailing.

Nancy Tartaglione contributed to this report.

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