Projection Issue Spoils Netflix Cannes Debut

By J. Sperling Reich | May 19, 2017 11:41 pm PDT

No doubt the Cannes Film Festival wishes to put the discussion surrounding their programming two Netflix titles at this year’s festival behind them. Yet in an ironic moment that underscored the ongoing debate of selecting films that will never be released in cinemas, and depending on how far you want to stretch the analogy, illustrated the current state of media hyperbole in most reporting, the very first screening of a Netflix film in Cannes was marred by a technical glitch.

At the early morning press showing of “Okja”, the latest film from Korean director Bong Joon-ho (“Snowpiercer”, “The Host”), it was clear after the first few seconds the film appeared on screen that the image was not correct. Despite the Grand Théâtre Lumière at the Palais des Festivals in Cannes having one of the largest movie screens in the world, the top half of the picture was missing; projected above the screen on the masking. It didn’t take long before the capacity audience of well over 1,200 people began to hiss and boo, in hopes rousing the festival’s crack projection team to rectify the situation.

Alas, “Okja” played for at least six minutes as the crowd grew more vociferous and its clapping much louder. When the film was finally stopped, this same clapping grew into applause of appreciation. The lights came up and technicians could be seen repositioning the masking on the screen. Meanwhile industry professionals and journalists went about either making the obvious jokes of how Netflix was incapable of showing a film on any screen larger than a television or speculating that the festival had purposely sabotaged the screening to get back at the subscription streaming service for not agreeing to release the movie in French movie theatres.

When the lights dimmed again the film restarted from the very beginning, though when the Netflix logo appeared on the second occasion, the mild booing it received during its first flawed start was far louder and more raucous. Various media outlets wound up exploiting this booing for their own purposes in their reports of the incident. (More on that in a bit.)

Filmmaker Bong Joon-ho took the technical hiccup in stride when asked about it after the screening ended. “What happened this morning, I’m happy about it,” he said before quickly adding levity to the situation . “You guys can watch the opening sequence twice. There is so much information and story elements there. So it was very educational. I love it!”

If one were forced to classify a genre for “Okja” it might be considered a fantastical action-adventure movie. The film starts Tilda Swinton as the CEO of a company that has scientifically engineered a breed of “super pigs”. The story revolves around the young Korean girl who raised one such pig, Okja, and who attempts to prevent the corporation from taking her mythical friend away from her for promotional purposes. Lilly Collins, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal also appear in the film.

Even before the first showing of “Okja” ended Cannes officials had released a statement about the snafu which read:

A technical incident disrupted the beginning of the screening of Bong Joon ho’s film, ‘Okja,’ which was shown this morning at a press screening at the Lumière Auditorium. The session was interrupted for a few minutes but was then able to carry on as normal.

This incident was entirely the responsibility of the Festival’s technical service, which offers its apologies to the director, his teams, the producers and the audience at the showing.

So yes, it’s hard to ignore the irony that it should be a film produced by Netflix, a company which has generated so much heated talk here in Cannes about the future film distribution, should be the movie initially projected in the wrong aspect ration, but truly it’s not the first technical difficulty to happen at the Cannes Film Festival (or any other festival for that matter) and it won’t be the last.

Perhaps more disturbing, in an age when the phrase “fake news” is being used regularly to bash the media, was witnessing how outlets of all stripes presented the unfortunate episode. A majority of online publications, including a handful of respectable outlets such as The Guardian, went with inaccurate clickbait headlines that played off the legendary reputation Cannes has developed over its 70 year history for audiences that boo films they find unworthy.

“Netflix’s ‘Okja’ Booed at First Press Screening in Cannes” The Wrap declared. “Screening stopped after Netflix film Okja booed and heckled at Cannes” ITV stated. The most egregious example might was a headline from Sky News that read, “Netflix film Okja gets famous ‘le boo’ at Cannes”. There were so many erroneous headlines about the matter that The Telegraph had to ask if any of them were true; “Was Tilda Swinton’s controversial Netflix film Okja really booed at Cannes?”.

The answer to The Telegraph’s question could be found in The Hollywood Reporter’s headline, “Netflix’s First Screening’s Technical Malfunction Booed”. The Cannes audience wasn’t booing “Okja” as a film. Indeed, the movie was generally well received here in Cannes. Instead, they were exhibiting contempt for the projection error, while at the same time registering their discontent over Netflix’s policy of not distributing their films theatrically.

J. Sperling Reich