To say the 2020 film festival circuit is very different from previous years is a drastic understatement. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many events, such as SXSW, Cannes, and Tribeca, to cancel, while others like Venice, TIFF, and NYFF are trying their best to blend together digital and in-person screenings to have some semblance of normality. However, no matter what fall festivals do and don’t happen, there’s one thing that is certain—Netflix isn’t taking part. And speaking to IndieWire, executive Ted Sarandos explained the reasoning behind that decision.
In recent years, Netflix has become a mainstay with festivals that agree to their terms (i.e. not Cannes), as the studio showcases some of the very best films each year, including past features like “Roma” and “The Irishman.” And while film festivals are still packed with some great movies, the lack of films from Netflix’s upcoming slate is noticeable, especially with films like “Mank,” “I Am Thinking Of Ending Things,” and “The Devil All the Time,” which would have been no-brainer inclusions for festival organizers. But according to Sarandos, the decision was made earlier this year and Netflix is just sticking to its guns.
“We had to make this decision back in March, and at that time, things looked pretty bleak,” he explained. “The idea of getting folks together to go to the mountains to watch movies in small dark rooms didn’t seem all that appealing to a lot of people.”
There was also the issue of forcing deadlines on filmmakers during a very uncertain time when no one knew what the future might hold.
He added, “We thought that having filmmakers spend that time in editing rooms instead of with their families was probably not a great tradeoff. There are a lot of things that aren’t going to happen this year. The urgency of film festivals didn’t seem to supersede that.”
So, because of these issues, it appears that Netflix is perfectly content with releasing its fall prestige films on its own schedule. It’s unclear if this sort of strategy will affect the awards chances of the aforementioned films and if this is an indication as to what Netflix might do in the future, when (hopefully) film festivals return to some sort of regular schedule. Alas, for 2020, the fall film festival circuit is Netflix-free.