Netflix is officially in the building.
With both Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” and Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Hand of God” playing at the festival, the streaming giant made its splashy debut on the Lido on Thursday, holding an exclusive cocktail party in the afternoon for their top executives and partners at the chic Hotel Excelsior.
Netflix film boss Scott Stuber, a recent Variety cover star, arrived at the party with his wife, the actor and model Molly Sims — and was greeted almost immediately by Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Fremaux. The irony was not lost on attendees, considering the streamer hasn’t premiered anything at Cannes since 2017, when Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories” marked the streamer’s first and last turn on the Croisette. (The festival quickly changed its rules following a fierce backlash by French exhibitors demanding that competition films play in local theaters before streaming.)
However, as Fremaux and Netflix’s Ted Sarandos have often taken pains to stress: there’s no bad blood between the streamer and festival, and many have speculated that Netflix will return to the festival in the very near future.
Speaking to Variety, Fremaux said the fest was already gearing up for next year’s edition, which is slated to return to its traditional May slot. But given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, which has caused headaches for Fremaux and his team for a year and a half, Cannes is planning to slot in some contingency dates, just as they did for 2021, in case they again need to delay the festival.
Netflix’s Venice cocktail was one of the first major events the SVOD has held at the Italian festival. In addition to “The Power of the Dog” and “The Hand of God,” it has a number of territories, including the U.S., on Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut “The Lost Daughter” and also picked up Brazilian film “7 Prisoners,” starring Rodrigo Santoro, earlier this year.
But on Thursday, the focus was very much on Campion and Sorrentino, whose films are world premiering back to back at the Sala Grande. Benedict Cumberbatch, the star of the moody and provocative “Power of the Dog” and a sure-fire awards contender this season, strode into the party with his partner shortly after the arrival of director Campion, with the group heading to their premiere directly afterwards.
The streamer’s towering presence in Venice this year will no doubt kickstart a busy awards season for the service, which is still chasing a best picture Oscar. An aggressive film strategy, however, seems to be paying off. As Endeavor Content executive Alex Walton remarked to Variety earlier this week, “I don’t think any international distributor would doubt that the Netflix approach to the awards campaign is [not working]. It’s very hard for them to argue against it now.”