This year was the first time a film from streaming giant Netflix played in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. As soon as the Netflix logo appeared, the notoriously tough crowd began to boo and hiss without having seen a frame of the actual film. Audiences at Cannes like to consider themselves film purists, but in the most restrictive and least imaginative way possible.
Some cultural critics view Netflix as the opening salvo to the death of the movie theater industry. What most critics fail to realize is that for every cinema like Austin's Alamo Drafthouse, Portland's Hollywood Theater or Bend's Tin Pan Theater, lovingly projecting motion pictures with a genuine care about the experience, there are a dozen more who couldn't care less about how the movie is presented once they have your money. There are a lot more big boxes than Tin Pans in this world.
Aside from the presentation, another issue is that people in most mid-sized and smaller cities aren't given the chance to see indie films in the theater. Instead, their only option is to catch the latest "Transformers" movie or whatever the largest release of that week is. Netflix is a chance for people to view many different kinds of movies.
Netflix also gives auteur directors a chance for distribution of their movie when studios quit taking chances on anything that doesn't already have a built-in fanbase or a good chance of creating a new franchise. Martin Scorsese is releasing his next movie (starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro) through Netflix because his last film, "Silence," flopped massively. Geniuses such as Jim Jarmusch, Noah Baumbach, David Wain, Duncan Jones and Jeremy Saulnier can barely get a film financed anymore and are all turning to Netflix for their upcoming films.
"Okja" was the film that was booed at Cannes—just released on Netflix last week. It's the latest offering from South Korean visionary Bong Joon-ho, the beautiful mind behind such modern classics as "Mother," "The Host" and "Snowpiercer."
It tells the story of a young girl named Mija who takes on a giant multi-national corporation to protect her best friend, a huge pig-like creature, from being experimented on. The film is a weirder and wilder "E.T." mixed with "Pete's Dragon," "Brazil" and "Spirited Away," but with the uncanny ability to break your heart and inspire your soul in equal measure.
While the audience at Cannes was failing to notice the forest for the trees, they were booing what will easily be one of the best films of the year and the most memorable cinematic experience I've had in a long time, an experience I had in my own home, watching a movie that could have easily played in theaters across the country. Instead I got to wear pajamas and cuddle with my cat instead of fighting to hear the movie over people using their outside voices.
With a cast featuring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano and the wonderful Ahn Seo-hyun, "Okja" should be a multi-cultural hit that crosses all boundaries. As a satire of corporate hegemony and as a sci-fi action/adventure on the level of Steven Spielberg's best, "Okja" is the kind of movie that reminds cinephiles like me why we dedicate so much of our lives to motion pictures in the first place.
It's not Netflix's responsibility to save movie theaters from themselves. Just because a movie doesn't play in a theater doesn't make it any less of a movie, and just because a theater plays movies doesn't mean they know what a truly immersive experience even is.
Dir. Bong Joon-ho