Streaming platforms are transforming the way films are watched. But traditional movie-going and sofa viewing can coexist
In recent years, Cannes has become a bastion of small-c conservatism when it comes to cinema. Since 2018, organisers of the world’s most famous film festival have refused to allow Netflix films to compete for its Palme D’Or, and railed against the attritional impact of streaming on traditional movie-going. If a film is not going to be shown in French cinemas, and given a three-year theatrical window before going online, it won’t be seen at Cannes. This year, the festival’s artistic director, Thierry Frémaux, took a veiled swipe at rival showcases such as Venice and Berlin, which have welcomed the digital disrupters. “Some festivals were first to open their doors a bit too freely,” he noted testily, “to people of whom we are not sure if they actually want cinema to survive.”
Such doom-mongering may be a little overdone. After a catastrophic Covid-hit 2020 for cinema, and a lost summer on the Croisette, this year’s edition of the festival – which ends on Saturday – has been a stirring success. There has been critical acclaim for new films by Wes Anderson and the British director Joanna Hogg, and a stunning English-language debut from the Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul. A succès de scandale from the Belgian director Paul Verhoeven generated gratifying headlines. The overall quality on show more than demonstrated that cinema is “not dead”, as Mr Frémaux put it at the festival’s outset. But it is understandable that those who treasure its traditions are feeling a little insecure. As the pandemic drove populations indoors, film studios have rushed to develop their own streaming services, and many more movies are now made without a big-screen release in mind.