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Cannes 2017Movies

Netflix's first movie appears at Cannes, and so does the controversy

South Korean director Bong Joon-ho reacts during a May 19 conference for the film 'Okja' at the Cannes Film Festival. (Laurent Emmanuel / AFP/Getty Images)
South Korean director Bong Joon-ho reacts during a May 19 conference for the film 'Okja' at the Cannes Film Festival. (Laurent Emmanuel / AFP/Getty Images)

Well, so much for the storm quieting.

Any hope that the Cannes Film Festival could proceed with a focus on movies, instead of the way they're delivered, was scuttled minutes into the first press screening of "Okja," the first Netflix feature to screen at the prestigious French film festival.

The bilingual Bong Joon-ho movie is a genre screwball comedy about GMO ethics that's financed and distributed by Netflix. At the sight of the streaming giant's logo in the opening credits Friday, a number of viewers began booing.  When the film began, the projection was misaligned to cut off half of the actors' faces, prompting the audience to hoot and holler. The chaotic spectacle went on for several minutes until the movie was stopped and the problem corrected.

Such technical glitches happen (very) occasionally at the methodically run Cannes. But they came with an extra charge here because of the controversy concerning Netflix movies — which increasingly skip theatrical releases — at the traditionalist fest. Organizers first admitted two Netflix movies (Noah Baumbach's latest is the other), then, after a backlash from French theater owners, said that in the future it will bar any movies from competition that don't have French theatrical distribution.

The controversy deepened Wednesday when competition-jury president Pedro Almodovar criticized Netflix, saying the screen for films "should not be smaller than the chair on which you're sitting."

At a news conference, Bong took the expected pro-Netflix stance, saying he "loved" working with the company, citing its willingness to authorize a higher budget and calling it "a wonderful experience." He avoided addressing his feelings about his movie largely staying out of theaters and also steered clear of criticizing the man who held the movie's Cannes fate in his hands.

"I'm just very happy he will watch this movie [at the premiere] tonight," he said of the Almodovar comments. "He can say anything; I'm fine‎."  

“Okja” star Tilda Swinton also weighed in on the Almodovar remark. “It’s really important the president feels free to make any statement he or she wants … but if you want to know what I really think — there’s room for everybody,” she said.

Bong was also asked about "rumors" the opening was "sabotaged" by anti-Netflix forces. He laughed. "I'm happy. You [journalists] can watch the opening twice."

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