Column: An Open Invitation to Pedro Almodóvar from a Netflix Subscriber (and Spanish Film Fan)
Your conservative stance concerning Netflix at the Cannes Film Festival last week came as a surprise, especially from the master of transgression.
As president of the Cannes jury, you said you didn’t think a film that wouldn’t be released theatrically could conceivably win the festival’s highest prize, the Palme d’Or.
Your comments may cast doubt on the jury’s impartiality, but they don’t vary from the industry’s general attitude of anger and fear about the inclusion of two Netflix films in the official competition at Cannes this year.
“In my opinion, what takes precedence is the size of the screen,” you said at the jury conference last week. Allowing that digital platforms constitute a new way of presenting a work of art, you also said they “must accept the rules already in place, particularly in financial and fiscal terms, and which have been adopted by all the networks.”
“These are the only means by which cinema can survive.”
Pedro, I invite you to come visit the town in Washington State where I moved from Madrid ten years ago. Here, you can see firsthand how cinema is “surviving.”
Pretty typical of small towns across America, we have one movie theater here with nine screens serving several towns in the area. I cannot recall a single subtitled film to have premiered at the theater since I moved here.
If I wanted to see your latest film “Julieta” on the big screen, I would have to catch a 2-hour shuttle to Seattle and a nearly 3-hour flight to Denver, the closest city to open your film in theaters (next August), according to your distributor’s website.
The data available on boxofficemojo.com says that your films have been released in the US on an average 178 screens. If you take out Volver, which came at the height of Penélope Cruz’s popularity in the US, that average drops to 121.
This, for one of Europe’s most internationally known filmmakers, in a country of some 40,000 screens.
In turn, “Seven Years” (“Siete Años”), the first Netflix production in Spain, was available to more than 100 million subscribers in over 190 countries.
The experience of the theater is grand and emotional and communal. Nobody who loves movies would dispute that. But sticking only to traditional financing and distribution models means severely limiting your audience.
And not just that – it means limiting the creation of new audiences for your movies.
Thanks to platforms like Netflix, American spectators have more access to international films now than at any time in this country’s history.
These services turn people on to cinema from around the world. You could even make a case that the small screen fits a more intimate European cinema even better than it does big Hollywood movies.
“We must humble ourselves before the big screen,” you said at Cannes.
Maybe it’s time to also humble ourselves before the unprecedented access to the hearts and minds of viewers that streaming services like Netflix allow European filmmakers in the US and around the world... regardless of the size of the screen.