Amazon leading la révolution at Cannes Film Festival

Streaming service presents five films at event potentially offering hope to independent sector

While the front pages focused on red carpet arrivals by Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Kristen Stewart, a quiet, less well-publicised revolution has been going on at the Cannes Film Festival. Amazon Studios is presenting five films in the official selection at the 2016 event.

This is the first year that such online streaming services have properly flexed their muscles on La Croisette. Woody Allen's Cafe Society, which opened the festival, is presented by the newcomer.

Three films from Amazon – Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, Jim Jarmusch's Paterson and Park Chan-wook's The Handmaiden – play in competition. Another, Gimme Danger, Jarmusch's documentary on Iggy Pop and the Stooges, will screen out of competition in a midnight slot.

Festival director Thierry Frémaux can reasonably argue that Cannes is not giving in to the small screen. So far Amazon has committed itself to getting its films into cinemas before setting them loose online. This often involves collaboration with the traditional studios. For instance Warner Brothers will be distributing Cafe Society in Britain and Ireland.

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"Amazon is different from Netflix. It is a real distributor, producer," Mr Frémaux said.

"They have Woody Allen but also some foreign films, so it's good news because thanks to them these films will be distributed."

He went on to argue that the new online studios could be beneficial to the beleaguered independent film sector.

“The presence of Amazon is not significant just for the Cannes film festival, it’s significant for the whole industry of cinema,” he said.

“I think it’s good news, it’s money, a new kind of money. Having Amazon buying four, five films is a very good sign – showing cinema is alive.”

Divided

Jodie Foster, in town with her thriller Money Monster, was divided about the prospects for the industry.

“I think this is the most risk-averse period in movie history,” she said. “Now so many things have changed in terms of the economy, the structure of studios.”

Foster has a long history with the festival. Forty years ago Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, her breakthrough into grown-up films, won the Palme d'Or at the event.

She acknowledged that far too few women are still directing features, but argued that women’s voices are now far more audible elsewhere on the set.

“I’ve seen drastic changes. When I was young, there were a lot of men on movie sets ambling around these towns, getting into trouble and unhappy. Everything changed when women got on to movie sets. Suddenly it felt more like a family – and movie sets became healthier.”

Meanwhile, the controversy concerning comments made by Laurent Lafitte, MC at the opening ceremony, continued to bubble on.

"It's very nice that you've been shooting so many movies in Europe, " he said of Woody Allen. "Even if you are not being convicted for rape in the US."

Lafitte now claims that he had no knowledge of the allegations of sexual abuse made against Allen and that his comments were wildly misinterpreted. This may not be the end of the hoo-ha.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist