Netflix’s Ted Sarandos Pushes Back on Cannes Chief Thierry Fremaux’s Jibe About Talent Discovery

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Now that the dust has settled on the Cannes Film Festival, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos is setting the record straight with festival artistic director Thierry Fremaux, who commented early on in the event that streaming platforms don’t discover talent in the same way.

At a pre-festival press conference, Fremaux had praised Netflix productions like “Mank” and “The Irishman” and also lauded the work of Sarandos and Scott Stuber. However, he asked: “What directors have been discovered by [streaming] platforms?”

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Speaking at a Film Companion Front Row session hosted by noted Indian journalist and former Variety contributor Anupama Chopra on Thursday, Sarandos emphasized the brotherhood and shared passion for cinema, stories and storytellers between him and Fremaux.

“The only thing that happened between Netflix and Cannes is they changed the rules,” said Sarandos. “And I just thought, I don’t want to bring our films if we are uniquely excluded from competition. And you know, my first year in Cannes [2017] we brought ‘The Meyerowitz Stories’ and ‘Okja,’ we had a remarkable experience.” However, in 2018 Cannes introduced a new rule that bans any films without theatrical distribution in France from playing in competition.

“Maybe the good thing that will come out of this change in distribution as a result of the COVID quarantines and theatrical shutdowns — our releasing model doesn’t seem very radical anymore,” said Sarandos. “Most things are day and date or seven days before or 14 days before. Nothing has those long exclusive windows anymore. And this idea that we were kind of uniquely excluded, I didn’t like that for our filmmakers, and I didn’t like that for our members.”

Directly addressing Fremaux’s remarks about platforms not discovering new voices, Sarandos said, “Cannes [has] been at this for 75 years, and we’ve been making our own original movies for about three. So we’ve got some work to do, for sure. But I would be remiss not to point out that Thierry was actually kind of a little bit wrong.”

“Just pointing out quickly, there’s a young filmmaker named Stefon Bristol, who we took directly out of film school at NYU, introduced to me by Spike Lee, who made his first feature called ‘See You Yesterday’ that won an Independent Spirit Award, was nominated for another and he’s going to be an amazing new voice,” Sarandos said.

Sarandos also talked up Jeymes Samuel who has directed upcoming $90 million Netflix western “The Harder They Fall,” noting that the streamer’s role is connecting new voices with an audience. He cited the example of “Atlantics” filmmaker Mati Diop, saying, “Yes, she was discovered on the festival circuit but she connected to the world through Netflix, and that’s really our role. I’d be nitpicking with Thierry if I started name-checking everybody.”

Sarandos pointed out that 25% of Netflix’s India slate is being made by newcomers. He also underlined that the streamer had scored five best picture Oscar nominations in three years as well as its role in making Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.”

The executive said Netflix plays an important role and “so does Cannes, so does Thierry and so does Venice and it’s a really great ecosystem of discovery that I’m proud to be part of.”

Netflix will be at Venice with Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” and Paolo Sorrentino’s personal drama “The Hand of God.”

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