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May 15, 2015 1:56 PM

Rise of Netflix met warily at Cannes Film Festival

The Associated Press

CANNES, France (AP) In Netflix's first official visit to the Cannes Film Festival, the streaming service's ambitions have been met warily at the Cote d'Azure cinema capital, a 68-year-old movie palace reverential to the theater-going experience.

Ted Sarandos, chief content officer of Netflix, appeared Friday as part of Cannes' NEXT conference to tout Netflix's global strategy and its desire to upend the traditional window release schedules of movies. Sarandos drew a packed theater in the Palais des Festivals, but not all in attendance were swayed by his prognostications.

One French reporter shouted that Netflix will "destroy the film ecosystem in Europe." Sarandos protested that Netflix would benefit European film. Weinstein Co. co-chairman Harvey Weinstein, a collaborator with Netflix who was sitting in the audience, also came to his defense, calling Netflix "a visionary company."

The confrontation illustrated the unease felt by some at the Cannes Film Festival about the encroachment of digital operators into an art form seen as hallowed in France, the birthplace of cinema.

Cannes is a place where a trailer for Quentin Tarantino's latest film, "Hateful Eight," drew applause when it advertises itself as shot "in glorious 70mm." On the first day of the festival, jury co-presidents Joel and Ethan Coen were cheered for their disinterest in television.

"How do we feel about people watching 'Lawrence of Arabia' on their iPhone?" Joel Coen said, pointedly rephrasing a question about digital media. "There's something special about sitting with a big crowd of people watching a movie on a big 80-foot screen."

But Netflix's inroads into original movies has been celebrated by many viewers, has helped increase the streaming service's 60 million-plus subscribers and has drawn a lineup of major names in Hollywood.

Netflix has inked deals with the Weinstein Co. for a "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" sequel, a new Pee-wee Herman movie with Judd Apatow, and a series of comedies with Adam Sandler. Other plans include a movie with Ricky Gervais, a documentary deal with Leonardo DiCapiro and a four-picture deal with Mark and Jay Duplass.

Two documentaries ("The Square" and "Virunga") have earned Netflix Oscar nominations in the last two years. Its growing prominence in the movie industry is now seen everywhere from the Academy Awards to Cannes.

On Friday, Sarandos insisted that Netflix wasn't "anti-theaters," but "pro-movies."

"If you don't want to put on your shoes, nothing in the theaters can compete with Netflix," said Sarandos.

Theater owners, however, have pushed back. All the major North American chains have refused to play "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend" on Aug. 28 when it's to be released day-and-date, both online and in theaters.

Sarandos said that movie budgets for Netflix range from below $10 million to more than $50 million, though TV shows still make up about 2/3 of its programming.

Netflix hasn't announced any purchases at Cannes yet, but it is shopping. The company has already had a large impact at other festivals, acquiring Cary Fukunaga's "Beasts of No Nation" at the Sundance Film Festival for a reported $12 million. At the Berlin Film Festival, it reportedly snagged Richie Smyth's "Jadotville" for $17 million.

Those acquisitions point to Netflix's deep pockets not a common quality in the largely tight-fisted independent film market. That, plus a reputation for allowing the creators to have creative control and the chance for a global audience, has made Netflix a very appealing option for filmmakers.

Netflix, Sarandos said, will increase its push into original movies and continue in its attempt to revolutionize the movie industry.

"Everything about how we consume entertainment has been changed by the Internet," said Sarandos, "except windowing for movies."


Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP


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